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Wilbur and Orville Wright: A Chronology

Since 1949, when the Wright papers were given to the Library of Congress by the Orville Wright estate, the Library has paid tribute to the Wright brothers on several occasions.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of powered flight, a two-volume edition of The Papers of Wilbur and Orville Wright, Including the Chanute-Wright Letters and Other Papers of Octave Chanute (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1953) was published under the sponsorship of Oberlin College. The Wrights' letters, diaries, notebooks, and other records of their scientific and technical work in inventing and perfecting the airplane were edited at that time by Marvin W. McFarland of the Library's Aeronautics Division.

A subsequent anniversary was observed by the Library with the publication of Wilbur & Orville Wright: A Bibliography Commemorating the Hundredth Anniversary of the Birth of Wilbur Wright, April 16, 1867 (Washington: Library of Congress, 1968), listing more than 2,000 printed and audiovisual research materials on the Wright brothers.

Commemorating the 100th anniversary in 1971 of the birth of Orville Wright, the Library here presents a chronology and flight log, through which the fortunes of the Wright brothers and their flying machines may be traced: their early trials, with little of the encouragement of public notice; the growing interest in their work by the time they exhibited their airplane and technique for the Army in 1908; their demonstration flights abroad in 1908 and 1909, which brought them public acclaim and meetings with kings; their triumphant return to the United States, with the presentation of medals by the President and a memorable two-day homecoming celebration in Dayton; the period of public exhibition flying; Wilbur's unexpected death from typhoid fever; the protracted Wright patent litigation with Glenn H. Curtiss; the sale of the Wright Company in 1915; the subsequent retirement of Orville from public life, his lengthy controversy with the Smithsonian Institution, and awards to him of numerous medals and honorary degrees; and finally, the continuing tribute tendered the Wrights in anniversary celebrations and testimonial dinners and the building and dedication of memorials and monuments in their honor.

The nucleus of the present publication was an article entitled "Wright Chronology," contributed by the compiler of this work to the July 1953 issue of the aviation journal Aero Digest, a commemorative issue marking the 50th anniversary of powered flight by the Wright brothers. Prepared in connection with the tasks associated with The Papers of Wilbur and Orville Wright, it consisted of 366 individual entries and covered the period from the birth of Wilbur Wright on April 16, 1867, through the Wright golden anniversary celebrations on December 17, 1953.

The present chronology comprises over 2,600 individual entries, extending the period covered through August 19, 1971, the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Orville Wright. The information presented is based upon an extensive survey of the Library's unique Wright collection, as well as other related documentary sources in the Library. One of the primary sources for the later years was the extensive chronological scrapbook collection maintained by the Wright brothers. Initiated by them in 1902, when the Wrights were conducting gliding experiments at Kitty Hawk, the scrapbooks were maintained in later years largely by Mabel Beck, secretary to Orville for many years, who also faithfully presided over the voluminous files and helped preserve the valuable documents for future historians. Additions to the scrapbooks ceased on February 29, 1948, shortly after Orville's death on January 30 of that year. A related source was the Library's Hart O. Berg collection, including 14 scrapbooks of newspaper clippings on the Wrights.

Supplementing the main chronology is a flight log, in which an attempt has been made to record the flights of Wilbur and Orville from 1900, when their first gliding experiments were carried out at Kitty Hawk, through 1918, when Orville made his last flight as a pilot at Dayton on May 13, flying a Wright 1911 model aircraft. A total of 21 detailed flight logs are presented. So far as is known, no previous attempts have been made to record the Wright flights systematically. Wright documents have served as primary sources for 12 series of flights: 1900, Orville's letter from Kitty Hawk to Katharine Wright, dated October 14; 1901, Wilbur Wright's Diary A; 1902, Orville Wright's Diary B and Orville Wright's Notebook C; 1903, Orville Wright's Diary D; 1904, Wilbur Wright's Diary E, 1904 - 1905; 1905, Wilbur Wright's Diary F; 1908, Wilbur Wright's Diary T (Kitty Hawk) and Signal Corps "Log of Wright Aeroplane" (Fort Myer, Va.); 1909, Signal Corps "Log of Wright Aeroplane" (Fort Myer, Va.) and Orville Wright's Diary X (Tempelhof Field, Berlin); 1910, Orville Wright's Diary Y; and 1911, Orville Wright's Diary V.

The Wright brothers' scrapbooks and contemporary accounts in American and European newspapers and in aviation and technical journals were the primary sources for the remaining Wright flight logs. No diaries or notebooks were maintained by Wilbur in France in 1908 recording his flights at the Hunaudieres Race Course and Camp d'Auvours at Le Mans, or in 1909 at Pont-Long, at Pau, and at Centocelle Flying Field, Rome. Nor did he keep detailed records of his flights at Governors Island, N.Y., and at College Park, Md., in 1909. Likewise, no accurate and detailed records survive of Orville's numerous flights at Dayton during the period 1910 - 18. Consequently, it is exceedingly difficult to record all flights for these periods, and no claim is made for completeness. Furthermore, accurate time, distance, and altitude records for these years are frequently unavailable.

A comprehensive index of persons, institutions, and geographic names cited in the publication is provided to facilitate use of the chronology.

The amount of pertinent material uncovered as the preparation of the chronology progressed resulted in an enlargement of its original scope, and consequently it was not possible to achieve publication in the 1971 anniversary year.