Orville Shows Wrightful Indignation

 
This article appeared in the Dayton Daily Newson September 30, 1995
 
ORVILLE SHOWS WRIGHTFUL INDIGNATION AT MUSEUMS' HANDLING OF EARLY PLANES
by  Roz Young
 
            The letters, diaries and notebooks of Wilbur and Orville Wright repose in the Library of Congress, where they are available for research.
            There are, however, still some letters floating about the world not included in the Library of Congress collection. There is always the possibility that they will yield a scrap of new information about Dayton's flying men.
            Recently Phil Herres, Dayton autograph and rare coin dealer, added two Orville Wright letters to his collection. He bought them from another autograph dealer, who bought them at an auction in New York. Herres paid $5,000 each for the letters, and if he wanted to sell them, the price would be $10,000 each, but he intends to keep them. Ordinarily a letter with the signature of Orville Wright is worth about $2,000, but the subject matter in each letter makes them more valuable.
            On April 30, 1925, Orville Wright gave a statement to the Dayton Daily News and The Journal Herald confirming reports that he was giving the original Wright airplane to the Science Museum at South Kensington, London. Less than a month later, Orville wrote the following letter to George F. Kunz, president of the Museum of the Peaceful Arts in New City:

Dear Mr. Kunz:
            The announcement of my intention to send our first airplane to the Kensington Museum brought upon me an avalanche of letters. I am simply swamped with them, so please pardon this delay in answering yours.
            No one can regret more than I the situation in the Smithsonian Institution which has made it impossible for me to place our first airplane in its care. I have wanted the plane to go to an institution in America which has an historical and educational exhibit of aeronautics, and not to a museum where it would be merely a prominent curiosity. The Smithsonian is the only institution in America which now has such an exhibit. But the Smithsonian has not cared to exhibit our plane of 1903, which was the first to fly, because it would overshadow the 1903 Langley machine, which failed to fly.
            When the Smithsonian in 1910 made a request for one of our machines, we suggested that we could furnish the original 1903 plane. We received a request for our 1908 machine. ... The National Museum now has one of our 1909 planes.
            I have kept our 1903 machine in my possession, in the hope that conditions in the Smithsonian might change. But after waiting nearly 15 years, and seeing the situation there becoming worse instead of better, I finally offered it to the Kensington Museum. At the time I offered it, I had not heard of the proposed Museum of the Peaceful Arts.
            Sincerely,
            Orville Wright

            On Dec. 10, 1925, Orville again wrote to Kunz, this time addressing him by his proper title:
           
            Dear Dr. Kunz:
            I thank you for your letter and for the copy of ``Industrial Museums.''
            None of the early machines excepting the one of 1903 is any longer completely in existence. I still have a few of the original parts of the 1904 and 1905 machines, such as propellers, chain transmission and parts of the motor.
            In 1911 Mr. Zenas Crane asked for the glider with which I made that year at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, a soaring flight of nine and three-quarters minutes. He wanted it for the museum which he had presented to the town of Pittsfield, Massachusetts. I gave him at the same time the wings, rudders, etc., of the 1905 machine, which at that time were also stored at our camp at Kitty Hawk - intending to give him the machinery parts later when he had it set up his museum.
            When the parts of the two machines arrived at Pittsfield, Mr. Crane employed a young ``expert'' to set them up. The young ``expert'' had read in some of Victor Lougheed's books descriptions of these two machines. When he found the originals did not agree with the descriptions, he cut these original machines up to make them conform with the descriptions he had read. The machines were badly mutilated. I think they never were restored to their original form, and I do not know what has become of them.
            Some time when I am in New York I should like to have the privilege of calling on you to explain just what is left of the materials used in our early experiments, which may have some historical value.
            I am reading the book on industrial museums with much interest, and thank you very much for sending it to me.
            Sincerely yours,
            Orville Wright
 
            The Victor Lougheed book Orville referred to is Vehicles of the Air (Chicago: The Reilly and Britain Co., 1909). Lougheed reprinted the patent application of the Wright brothers for the original plane as abridged in The Official Gazette of the United States Patent Office, May 22, 1906. The abridger, who has disappeared into history, is probably the one who made the errors that so annoyed Orville.
            The 1905 machine, which Orville mentioned in the second letter to Kunz, is the one you can see in Wright Hall at Carillon Historical Park. To learn the story of how Orville retrieved the pieces of the machine he had given to Crane, you can find it in the booklet "The Wright Brothers," on sale at the park.