President Taft presents Medals to Wright Brothers, 1909

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.

President Taft, center, with Wilbur Wright (left) and Orville Wright and sister Katharine (right) and other important gentlemen, at the White House, June 10, 1909. (MS-1)

President Taft, center, with Wilbur Wright (left) and Orville Wright and sister Katharine (right) and other important gentlemen, at the White House, June 10, 1909. From the Aero Club of America scrapbook, MS-1 Wright Brothers Collection.

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.

Aero Club of America medals awarded to the Wright Brothers in June 1909. MS-1, Wright Brothers Collection.

Aero Club of America medals awarded to the Wright Brothers in June 1909. MS-1, Wright Brothers Collection.

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:

Taft's speech, page 1 of 2

Taft’s speech, page 1 of 2

Taft's speech, page 2 of 2

Taft’s speech, page 2 of 2


Happy Presidents’ Day!

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You’re Invited: 4th Annual Public History Symposium, March 13

Please join us on Friday, March 13, for the 4th annual Public History Graduate Symposium, as we explore “History Through a Prism: Untold Stories,” with keynote speaker and Emmy-winning aviation filmmaker Adam White, in the Wright State University Student Union Apollo Room, 9:00-4:30.

Adam White graduated from Wright State University’s film program in 1995 with a degree in Motion Picture Production. He has won regional Emmy awards for several PBS documentary films. With over 15 years of experience, Adam has filmed on four continents, working in film, HD and beyond. In addition to working as a Director of Photography, Adam is also an experienced SteadiCam owner/operator. Adam White’s film company is Hemlock Films, an award-winning, full-service production company specializing in commercial film, aviation video production and Steadicam. The company produces high quality, professional works from industrials and commercials, to aviation videos, to mainstream feature films. Based out of his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, Adam is also a licensed private pilot. According to Adam, aviation cinema means great storytelling; to dive deep into a story’s true nature and reveal its details and emotion.

The symposium will be a thought-provoking day of panels featuring the research of Wright State University Public History graduate students and networking with other public history professionals.

This event is free and open to the public, and free and convenient parking is available at the Student Union. Although the symposium is free, we are requesting RSVPs by March 6 for the purpose of estimating seating and catering needs. You can register online, or call the Archives at (937) 775-2092 to register.

You can learn more detailed information about the panel topics below, or download a printable (PDF) schedule. You may also want to visit the Public History Symposium’s Facebook page.

Public History Graduate Symposium 2015 Schedule

Public History Graduate Symposium 2015 Schedule

Learn more from the Wright State News Room.

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Groundhog Day Notes

On February 2, 1915, Bishop Milton Wright wrote the following as part of the day’s diary entry:

…This is ground hog day. There is not a ray of sunshine.

(As there was “not a ray of sunshine,” it would seem that the groundhog probably did not see his shadow on that day, thus predicting that spring will come sooner.)

But this made us curious about how long “Groundhog Day” (the holiday, not the movie) has been around. Obviously, people were aware of it in 1915.

According to New World Encyclopedia, Groundhog Day in America dates back to at least as early as 1841.

On February 4, 1841, storekeeper James Morris of Morgantown, Pennsylvania, wrote in his diary:

Last Tuesday, the 2nd, was Candlemas day, the day on which, according to the Germans, the Groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if he sees his shadow he pops back for another six weeks nap, but if the day be cloudy he remains out, as the weather is to be moderate.

According to the encyclopedia citation, Morris’s diary is in the collections of Historical Society of Berks County, in Reading, Pennsylvania.

And the Historical Society’s Director of Collections, Kimberly (Richards) Brown, just happens to be a Wright State University Public History graduate (class of 2004).

So we contacted Kim to inquire about Morris’s diary, and she was kind enough to send us a scan, along with permission to post it here on the blog. (We added the blue box to highlight the location of the February 4th entry on the page.)

James Morris diary entry for Feb. 4, 1841. Courtesy of The Berks History Center, Reading PA, item location T 83, Vol. 1.

James Morris diary entry for Feb. 4, 1841. Courtesy of The Berks History Center, Reading PA, item location T 83, Vol. 1. (We added the blue highlighting to indicate the Feb. 4 entry.)

Aren’t archives (and archivists) wonderful?

Special thanks again to Kim Brown and the Berks History Center, Reading, Pennsylvania, for permission to reproduce the above image from James Morris’s diary.

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