The First Flight

    Only seven men were present on December 17, 1903 when Orville Wright made the first successful flight. Orville and his brother, Wilbur, were two of them. The other five, who lived near Kitty Hawk, were witnesses. J.T. Daniels, W.S. Dough and A.D. Etheridge were members of Kill Devil Life Saving Station. W.C. Brinkley, of Manteo, and Johnny Ward, a boy from Nags Head, were also there.

    "Although a general invitation had been extended to the people living within five or six miles, not many were willing to face the rigors of a cold December wind in order to see, as they no doubt thought, another flying-machine not fly. The first flight lasted only twelve seconds, a flight very modest compared with that of birds, but it was, nevertheless, the first in the history of the world in which a machine carrying a man had raised itself by its own power into the air in free flight, had sailed forward on a level course without reduction of speed, and had finally landed without being wrecked."

    On a warmer day, there would have been more curious people watching, but the five who braved the weather on the chance that the flying-machine might actually fly, were rewarded with the story of a lifetime.

    But who would believe it? Unless you saw it with your own eyes, would you?

    Orville positioned his camera, and Mr. Daniels captured photographs for him, but, even with pictures, who could believe it?

    So, the Wright Brothers began their work to prove that they had achieved the impossible—sustained, controlled, powered flight. Meanwhile, they also began to plan their next airplane.

    The first person the brothers told was their father. On the evening of December 17, 1903, after dinner, Wilbur and Orville went into town to send a telegram to their father.

    Their father reacted, of course, with great pride. On January 16, 1904, Bishop Wright, the fair father, wrote these words about his sons.

    "Neither could have mastered the problem alone. As inseparable as twins, they are indispensable to each other."

    When Wilbur died on May 30, 1912, Bishop Wright reflected again on his son's lifework.

    "This morning at 3:15, Wilbur passed away, aged 45 years, 1 month, and 14 days. A short life, full of consequences. An unfailing intellect, imperturbable temper, great self-reliance and as great modesty, seeing the right clearly, pursuing it steadily, he lived and died."

    Not everyone reacted with a father's pride, however. In fact, Orville and Wilbur had quite a challenge convincing people that their success was true. After all, the two "hobbyists" had succeeded in just eight years while other "scientists" had failed for decades.

    Some of the reactions were even ugly. The Wrights had applied for, and received, a patent for their 1903 Flyer. This allowed them to request a modest fee for using their design. Other aviators were furious. They refused to pay and tried to say that the Wright Brothers didn't deserve the patent anyway.

    Wilbur and Orville applied for their patent on March 23, 1903, nearly ten months before their first flight. The United States Patent Office granted them a patent for their "Flying Machine" on May 22, 1906. The scientific principles in the patent are the basis for the design of all airplanes that have been made since. Yet, the Wright Brothers, in their lifetimes, never received the fame or fortune they deserved. Wilbur spent the last few years of his life fighting about the patent and he died without knowing the world finally recognized his work.

    In their 1903 telegram, the brothers told their father to "inform Press," yet the first published, eyewitness account of the Wright flight was over a year later in the January 1, 1905 issue of "Gleanings in Bee Culture."

    After the excitement of the December 1903 flights, the brothers could not wait another year to fly again. No longer worried about needing soft sand for crashing, they found a location in Ohio, eight miles outside of Dayton. In Spring of 1904, they built a workshed on Huffman Prairie. There, they prepared to fly their new plane which was heavier, but similar in design to the 1903 Flyer. When they were ready, they invited every newspaper near Dayton to watch. The weather was not quite right, but, since the reporters were there, they tried anyway. The plane failed to liftoff. Some news reporters returned the next day to see another unsuccessful attempt. It's no surprise, then, that the Wright Brothers didn't make the papers.

    In 1914, The Franklin Institute became the first major scientific institution to recognize the Wright Brothers' achievement. Orville traveled to Philadelphia to accept proudly the Cresson Medal for scientific achievement. Sadly, Wilbur had not lived to see the award. Years later, upon Orville's death on January 30, 1948, The Franklin Institute found out just how grateful Orville was. In his last will and testment, Orville gave most of his tools and drawings to The Franklin Institute. Today, the world's largest collection of Wright Brothers' artifacts is housed at The Franklin Institute. The broken 1903 Flyer, however, is on display at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum. The exhibit is labelled with these words:

    THE ORIGINAL WRIGHT BROTHERS AEROPLANE
    THE WORLD'S FIRST POWER-DRIVEN,
    HEAVIER-THAN-AIR MACHINE IN WHICH MAN
    MADE FREE, CONTROLLED, AND SUSTAINED FLIGHT
    INVENTED AND BUILT BY WILBUR AND ORVILLE WRIGHT
    FLOWN BY THEM AT KITTY HAWK, NORTH CAROLINA
    DECEMBER 17, 1903
    BY ORIGINAL SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH THE WRIGHT BROTHERS
    DISCOVERED THE PRINCIPLES OF HUMAN FLIGHT
    AS INVENTORS, BUILDERS, AND FLYERS THEY
    FURTHER DEVELOPED THE AEROPLANE,
    TAUGHT MAN TO FLY, AND OPENED
    THE ERA OF AVIATION

    As this story about first flight shows, the small objects in The Franklin Institute's collection actually changed the course of human aviation more than the Flyer itself. The objects they used in their pursuit of scientific knowledge ultimately changed the course of human history.

    On March 2, 1927, President Calvin Coolidge ordered the constuction of a monument at Kill Devil Hills in honor of "first flight." On November 19, 1932, the sixty-foot granite memorial was finished. These words are carved in the granite: "In commemoration of the conquest of the air by the brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright. Conceived by genius, achieved by dauntless resolution and unconquerable faith."

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