On June 10, 1909, U.S. President William Howard Taft presented Wilbur and Orville Wright with the Aero Club of America gold medals in the East Room of the White House, before an assembly of over 1,000 people.
The above photograph commemorated the occasion. President Taft is at the center, with Wilbur Wright to the left, Orville Wright to the right, and the Wright Brothers’ sister Katharine to the right of Orville. The other gentlemen in the photograph include aviators Alan R. Hawley and James C. McCoy; Herbert Parsons, a New York Congressman; and Charles Jerome Edwards, president of the Aero Club of America. This photo is from MS-1, Wright Brothers Collection, Aero Club of America Scrapbook.
The gold Aero Club of America medals awarded to the Wright Brothers in June 1909 were designed by Victor D. Brenner and are among the many medals awarded to the brothers that can be found in our Wright Brothers Collection.
In presenting the medals to the Wright Brothers, President Taft delivered the following speech:
Mr. Wilbur and Mr. Orville Wright:
I esteem it a great honor and an opportunity to present these medals to you as an evidence of what you have done. I am glad – perhaps at a delayed hour – to show that in America it is not true that “A prophet is not without honor save in his own country.” It is especially gratifying thus to note a great step in human discovery by paying honor to men who bear it so modestly. You made this discovery by a course that we of America like to feel is distinctively American – by keeping your nose right at the job until you had accomplished what you had determined to do.
It has been said that this is the first Presidential recognition of aeronautics since President Washington. Well, all I have to say is that I had a predecessor who, if aeronautics had proceeded as far when he left office as they have today, would not only have gone down under the water in a submarine boat but would have gone up into the air in a flying machine. No one had a more earnest interest, a more active interest and a greater desire to see into the things that make for progress than my predecessor.
There may be some reasons why some Presidents have not figured in Aeronautics. I see that these gentlemen who have flown in the air are constructed more on the plan of the birds than some of us.
Mr. Justice Brown, in commenting on the law of patents, which is supposed to follow the proper rule in awarding merit to discovery, says that in the patent law it is the last step that counts – that is, the difference between [page 2] failure and success, and that step you gentlemen have taken. I doubt not that whatever improvements are hereafter made for sailing the air in machines heavier than the air, the principles that you have discovered and applied and the method of their application will be the basis of all successful ones.
I don’t like to think, and I decline to think that these instrumentalities that you have invented for human use are to be confined in their utility to war. I presume that they will have great value in war, and I suppose that all of us representatives of the various governments ought to look at this matter, following the rule of governments today, from the standpoint of their utility in war; but I sincerely hope that these machines will be increased in usefulness to such a point that even those of us who now look at them as not for us may count on their ability to carry more than “thin” passengers in times of peace.
Many great discoveries have come by accident. Men working in one direction have happened on a truth that developed itself into a great discovery, but you gentlemen have illustrated the other, and on the whole much more commendable, method. You planned what you wished to find and then you worked it out until you found it.
I congratulate you on the result. I congratulate you on the recognition that you have received from all the crowned heads of Europe, and I congratulate you that in receiving it you maintained the modest and dignified demeanor worthy of American citizenship.
The following transcript pages of the above speech can be found in the Aero Club of America Scrapbook in MS-1, Wright Brothers Collection:
Happy Presidents’ Day!