Octave Chanute was an American civil engineer who is best known for the support and encouragement he gave the Wright brothers during the years they were developing their aircraft. Chanute was born on February 18, 1832, in Paris, France. He came to the United States at a young age and became a U.S. citizen. His professional career was spent designing and building bridges and supervising the construction of railways. He first became interested in aviation about 1875 and adopted aviation as his second career when he retired from his engineering business in 1889. In 1894, he published a group of papers that described the efforts of others to build various types of flying machines from ancient times to the present. This compendium, titled Progress in Flying Machines, was the first history of aviation.
Chanute corresponded with many of the important figures in aviation, including Otto Lilienthal in Germany and the Wright brothers in the United States. In 1896, he began experimenting with gliders in a camp on the shores of Lake Michigan near Chicago. He built, along with Augustus Herring, a glider that was the most advanced of its time and made about 2,000 gliding flights without an accident. The data he collected would prove useful to the Wright brothers when they were developing their early glider designs.
Chanute freely shared his knowledge about aviation with anyone who was interested and expected others to do the same. This led to some friction with the Wright brothers, who wanted to protect their invention through patents.
He died on November 2, 1910.