Letters from the Wright Brothers

In 1900, three years before he and his brother accomplished the first controlled, powered heavier-than-air flight, Wilbur Wright wrote to renowned engineer Octave Chanute for advice, one inventor and thinker to another:

…My business requires that my experimental work be confined to the months between September and January and I would be particularly thankful for advice as to a suitable locality where I could depend on winds of about fifteen miles per hour without rain or too inclement weather. I am certain that such localities are rare.

I have your Progress in Flying Machines and your articles in the Annuals of ’95, ’96, & ’97, as also your recent articles in the Independent. If you can give me information as to where an account of Pilcher’s experiments can be obtained I would greatly appreciate your kindness.

In 1917, after decades of inventions, feuds, lawsuits, the death of his brother from typhoid, and only one year before his last flight ever as a pilot, Orville wrote a letter of his own to a certain Master Milford T. Ware:

Dear Sir,
I have your letter of October 21st. I am sorry that I have no drawings of gliders that I can send you.

I’m kind of having fun pretending that the brothers were writing to each other. What a mismatched pair my Imaginary-Wright-Brothers are, ol’ earnest Wilbur and cantankerous, cigar-chompin’ Orville.

“We’ll never getting this thing to fly!” barks Orville, pacing in his shirtsleeves in the dusty bicycle-garage, as Wilbur reaches into his suspenders for a pair of calipers to check a measurement. By way of response, he confidently spins a propeller — “Oh, no?”

With a sputter, a crack, and a clatter, the motor seizes and tumbles into a pile of bicycle gears. Outside, chickens scatter as the air heats for the hundredth time that day: “Willl-burrr!!!!”

(This post is really to bring to your attention the existence of 100,000 aviation photos and artifacts recently posted by the San Diego Air & Space Museum on Flickr — where the latter letter was found — and the website Letters of Note, which reprints correspondence from all manner of notable figures, and whence the former letter was found. Both collections are well worth your exploration.)

  • patg00

    The first letter to Chanute shows what a letterhead should look like!

  • patg00

    Also, although you’re a beard connoisseur, the Roscoe Turner mustache from SDASM shouldn’t be missed.

  • In 1900, three years before he and his brother accomplished the first controlled, powered heavier-than-air flight

    …And only one year after Gustave Weisskopf had already done it in Pittsburgh! Weisskopf also leaned heavily on Chanute’s work, by the way.