Celebrating the First Flight: The Early Years

First Flight photo (ms1_16_2_10)
December 17, 1903 (ms1_16_2_10)

The five year anniversary of the First Flight was a quiet affair for the Wright family. In December 1908, Wilbur was flying in France, while Orville was at home in Dayton recuperating from injuries sustained in September airplane accident at Fort Myer, Virginia. There was no mention of the anniversary in the local newspapers on December 17 or in the diary of their father Bishop Milton Wright.

It should be noted the next day, December 18, 1908, Wilbur established two new world records in the skies above Camp d’Auvours, Le Mans, France. He also won the Aero Club of Sarthe prize for altitude by reaching 115 meters. Wilbur’s flight covered 99 kilometers in 1 hour and 54 minutes. By comparison, the first flight 5 years earlier had lasted roughly 12 seconds.

Wilbur Flying Above the Altitude Balloons, December 18, 1913 ms1_36_105

5 years later, on December 17, 1913, Bishop Milton Wright wrote the following in his diary, “Mrs. J. Steven eats supper with Katharine. The Supper at Aero Club is in New York this evening. Orville is there. It is the tenth anniversary of their first flights at Kitty Hawk” (Sadly, Wilbur had died the previous year from typhoid fever on May 30, 1912). The New York Times published an extensive article “Aero Club Honors Orville Wright: Aviators Commemorate birth of Heavier-Than-Air Machine Ten Years Ago” (December 18, 1913, page 10). The article stated “it is several years since the Aero Club held such a distinguished crowd as that which assembled last night to do honor to Orville Wright” and said the event was “a splendid tribute to the man who has done so much to advance the science of aviation and place America in the forefront of advanced aeronautics.” The January 1914 issue of Flying (Vol. 11, No. 12) described the event in detail. Incidentally, the next day, December 18th, Orville met fellow inventor Thomas A. Edison and his family for the first time at Edison’s home in New Jersey (see picture below).

During the evening festivities, a resolution by the Aero Club commemorating the 1903 achievement was read and presented to Orville. Today the resolution is part of the Wright Brothers Collection (MS-1).

This year due to the Pandemic, organizations in both Dayton, Ohio, and Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, have joined together to create a virtual celebration of the 117th anniversary of the First Flight on Facebook Live. Tune in at 9:30am (EST) on December 17th to join the Wright Brothers Day festivities, which include guest speakers, wreath laying ceremony, and a flyover.

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