Wright Brothers – Famous Wright Airplane Flights

Articles relating to famous flights taken by the Wright Brothers.

The Wrights formed the Wright Company on November 22, 1909, with Wilbur as president and Orville as a vice-president. The company manufactured airplanes, engines and accessories, operated a flying school, and in 1910, formed and managed an exhibition flying team.

Orville and Wilbur were not enthusiastic about setting up an exhibition team. They deliberated about it for a long time. They were urged by others to form a team, particularly by Roy Knabenshue, who argued that the Wrights should be represented at the many air meets who were touring the country. Knabenshue at the time was involved in demonstrating dirigibles at state fairs so he was knowledgeable about the exhibition business.

The Wrights’ were hesitant about what they termed the carnival-like atmosphere at the air meets and the “fancy flying – daredevil” flying aspect of it.

They were eventually swayed by the opportunity to showcase their technology and the opportunity to make some money and keep the company profitable.

On January 17, 1910 Wilbur sent a telegram to Knabenshue inviting him to manage the new Wright Exhibition Team. The first goal was to attend the air show at the new Indianapolis speedway to be held on June 13-19.

Mabel Beck was hired as secretary to Knabenshue. She later became secretary to Wilbur, and after his death, became secretary to Orville, staying with him until his death in 1948.

To meet the June date in Indianapolis, The Wrights’ decided to move the training of their pilots down south where the weather was warmer. They chose a site near Montgomery, Alabama, (Now Maxwell Air Force Base.)

Three of the original team members were from Dayton, Ohio. One of them was Walter Brookins, who the Wright brothers had known since he was four years old. The Wrights’ sister, Katharine, had taught him in high school. The Wrights’ had a nickname for him of “Brooky.”

The other members of the team were Spencer Crane from Dayton, Clifford Turpin from Dayton, Arch Hoxsey from California, Ralph Johnstone from Kansas City, Frank Coffyn from New York, Philip Parmelee from Michigan, and Al Welsh from Philadelphia and Washington D.C.

In March, Orville and five novice pilots arrived in Montgomery. Orville trained Brookins first and he thereby became the first civilian pilot trained by the Wright brothers. Brookins completed his training on May 3rd and did so well that Orville assigned him to instruct the remaining men.

Orville returned to Dayton with Welsh on April 9. Crane followed later after deciding that becoming a pilot was not for him.

In May it was warm enough in Dayton to move the entire training camp back to Dayton as they continued to prepare for the Air Show in Indianapolis.

The night before their first performance at the Indianapolis Speedway, the new pilots were handed contracts that specified they would receive $20 per week and $50 per day of flying. The pilots were not happy with the amount, but after some bickering, accepted the terms.

They were also told that there would be no drinking, gambling, and no flying on Sunday.

Brookins was the star of the show in Indianapolis. On the first day he broke the world’s altitude record, rising to 4,939 feet. He became famous for making short turns and flying circles close to the ground with wings at angles of up to 80 degrees.

Before long the team was performing across the U.S. and the money was good, earning a profit of over $100,000 in 1910.

Another important Air Show to the Wright brothers was the International Aviation Tournament at Long Island’s Belmont Park. The specific event that attracted the Wrights’ was the Gordon Bennett speed competition. Their archival Glenn Curtiss had won the speed prize the year before. The Wrights’ wanted to win this year to demonstrate to the world the superiority of the Wright airplanes.

The Wrights’ decided to design a new airplane for the race that was built for speed. They named it the “Baby Grand.” Orville flew it in a test before the big race and attained a speed of 78-mph.

Orville chose Brookins to fly the airplane for the actual race. On Brookins’s first pass before the grandstand with Wilbur, Orville and the entire racing team intently watching, the engine started making a strange sound. The airplane began coming down too fast and although Brookins was able to level the machine, it hit the ground hard. The Baby Grand was destroyed. It turned out that the cause of the accident was that the engine had lost four of its eight cylinders.

Brookins was badly bruised, but not serious injured. The winner of the race, it turns out, flew 10-mph slower than the Wrights’ machine had flown before the race.

The Wright team also experiences an unusual event at Belmont Park. Johnstone and Hoxsey were competing with each other to establish a new altitude record. The winds were fierce that day and when the two pilots turned into the wind they were blown backwards. Hoxsey landed 25-miles from the airport. Johnstone was blown even farther backwards and landed 55-miles away. Johnstone did achieve a new altitude record.

The Wright airplanes were attracting a lot of publicity with their daredevil stunts, but Wilbur and Orville were becoming concerned about the dangerous showmanship.

Wilbur pulled Hoxsey and Johnson aside and warned them: “I am very much in earnest when I say that I want no stunts and spectacular frills put on the flights — Anything beyond plain flying will be chalked up as a fault and not a credit.”

The warning had little effect. On New Years Eve in Los Angles, Hoxsey had started to descend at a steep angle of about 80 degrees from the 100-foot level and never pulled up before hitting the ground. Hoxsey was killed.

Hoxsey will be remembered for taking President Theodore Roosevelt for his first airplane ride in October 1910.

The Wrights’ began to question whether they should continue the exhibition business. Even Katharine was upset. She commented, “New Year’s day was a night-mare for all. I am so sick of this exhibition business. It is so absolutely wrong.”

By mid year Orville reviewed the exhibition business and concluded that the profits were down. Wilbur responded that, “If it appears the exhibition business is not really profitable, my idea would be to get out of it as soon as possible.”

In November 1911 they closed the exhibition business.

Pilots are having trouble flying replicas/reproductions of Wright brothers’ airplanes. There have been three such recent accidents subject to FAA crash investigation.

Ken Hyde of the Wright Experience in Warrenton, Va. flew his 1911 reproduction Model B into a tree on May 2003 and sustained some injuries, but none life threatening.

Later that year in November one of his pilots crashed a 1903 Flyer.

During the 102nd anniversary in 2007 of the first successful flight of a practical airplane, the 1905 Flyer crashed at Huffman Prairie in Dayton. Mark Dusenberry hit the ground with a wing while making his first turn and crashed his replica.

The modern pilots shouldn’t be surprised. The Wright brothers had many accidents. Orville had the most with eight major crashes.

His first was with a glider at Kitty Hawk on Sept. 23, 1902.

His second crash was with the 1904 Flyer at Huffman Prairie on August 24, 1904.

His third crash was also at Huffman Prairie on Nov. 1, 1904.

His fourth was again at Huffman Prairie flying the 1905 Flyer on July 14, 1905.

His fifth accident almost filled him; it did kill his passenger, Lt. Tom Selfridge. It occurred during the Army trials at Fort Myer on July 2, 1908.

His sixth accident was also at Fort Myer a year later on July 2, 1909.

His seventh accident was years later in the fall of 1911. He was back at Kitty Hawk with a new larger glider. He flew it into the side of a sand hill.

Just six days later he crashed again at Kitty Hawk with his new glider when it flipped over on its back just after release. That was his eighth accident.

In the fall of 1908 Wilbur was making demonstration flights and setting new records before crowds of spectators at Camp d’Auvours in France. One of those records did not involve prizes. Rather it was the occasion of the flight of the first woman to fly.

On October 7, he granted Mrs. Hart Berg the distinction of being the first woman to fly in a heavier-than-air machine. Mrs. Berg was the wife of Hart Berg who was the wife of Wilbur’s European agent.

The short ride was quite notable and brought her considerable fame as a style leader of the day.

This distinction was achieved accidentally. Just before the flight her husband, concerned about her modesty, tied a short piece of rope around the hem of her skirt to hold her dress securely in place in the wind.

In her excitement after the flight she forgot to untie the rope and hobbled around for awhile with the rope still tied to the hem of her dress. It just so happened that a leading French dressmaker was one of the spectators that day. She rushed back to Paris and sewed a new skirt design that quickly found favor with the fashion-conscious.

In this way the “hobble skirt” was born. It became the vogue the world over.

The year 1910 was a big flying year for the Wright brothers. Their father, Bishop Milton Wright recorded much of it in his daily diary. I have selected a number of excerpts from his diary that talk about flying and other activities that they engaged in.

The Bishop made notations in his diary on a number of interesting topics including: the dispute over the Wright patent and Wilbur’s many trips to defend their patent, Huffman Prairie, Wright Exhibition team, President Theodore Roosevelt’s first airplane flight, Wright Model R airplane, first flight carrying freight, Orville flying over Dayton, Katharine flying with Orville, family affairs, and Milton’s thoughts on politics, Darwinism and religion.

Saturday, January 1: I am in my 82nd year in fair health, except lumbago.

Monday, January 3: News that the Wright brothers were granted an injunction against Herring & Curtis.

Saturday, January 8: Wilbur had word of the suspension of Judge Hazel’s injunction.

Tuesday, February 8: At 10:00 p.m., Wilbur and Orville start to Washington City, to receive, Friday, medals from the Smithsonian Institute.

Friday, February 11: Chief justice Fuller presented Wilbur and Orville, each, a gold medal, in behalf of the Smithsonian Institute. Taft, Senator Lodge and other dignitaries were there. Lodge spoke.

Note: They were awarded the first Langley Medals on Feb. 10. Orville returns to Dayton, Wilbur continues on a trip to the South in search of a site for training aviators during the winter months, returning to Dayton on February 25.

Thursday, February 17: News that Judge Hand had decided the suit against Paulhan in favor of the Wright brothers. An injunction temporary granted. A telegram from Wilbur from Augusta, Georgia says he finds a good place at Montgomery, Alabama.

Note: Louis Paulhan was a French aviator. He was charged with using several flying machines that infringed the Wright patent.

Thursday, February 25: Wilbur came home at 12:00 from N. York. Got out an injunction against Paulhan, security $25,000 for a month.

Monday, March 7: Wilbur left at 2:00 for the East to get affidavits to support those filed by himself and Orville in the retrial at Buffalo.

March 20: Wilbur arrived home from Buffalo. The parties did not insist on a retrial, but they agreed to a future trial of the Appeal.

Note: The injunction restrained Herring-Curtiss Co. from manufacturing, selling or using the Curtiss airplane for exhibition purposes.

Wednesday, March 23: At 2:40, Orville starts to Montgomery, Alabama, to train men to fly.

Note: Orville conducted flying school training for five students who were to engage in exhibition flying for the Wright Company. Walter Brookins, first civilian student, made his first flight with Orville on March 28.

Friday, March 25: Nice weather. Katharine went shopping with Mrs. F. H. Russell. Dinner late. She employed Carrie Brumbach to get supper and went with Agnes Osborn on a walk.

Note: Frank Russell was the first factory manager of the Wright factory in 1909.

Friday, April 1: The girls Ivonette and Leontine stay at night with us.

Note: The girls are the daughters of Lorin Wright

Friday, April 29: Evening paper tells of Orville’s flights at Montgomery, Alabama.

Tuesday, May 3: Wilbur returned home about 2:00 p.m. from New York City. Had done little by going.

Monday, May 9: Orville at Simm’s, made several flights. Wilbur is in New York.

Note: Simms refers to Huffman Prairie.

Tuesday, May 10: Orville appeared at about 3:00, at Pennsylvania depot on his way to New York to attend in the Court of Appeals in defense of the decision in favor of their temporary injunction against Herring Company & Curtiss.

Saturday, May 14: Orville is flying. We went out to see him. He flew seven times.

Wednesday, May 18 Orville flew in the forenoon 700 feet high. I saw him fly in the afternoon 1,520 feet.

Thursday, May 19: Orville mad a number of flights at Simm’s Station, one alone 1760 feet.

Saturday, May 21: We went to Simm’s and saw Orville fly about 2,000 feet. He prepared a new machine once. He flew with A.L. Welsh, LaChapelle, and Lorin. The wind was pretty still. We came home in an automobile with Mr. Thresher.

Wednesday, May 25: We went to Simm’s Station. Orville rose 1600 feet and 2600 feet in flights. Orville and Wilbur took their first flight together. Orville took me up 350 feet and 6.55 minutes (picture).

Thursday, May 26: Katharine and Wilbur go to Simm’s in the afternoon. Orville makes some eight flights. In one he rose about 2100 feet high. In one he shut off the motor and descended some six hundred feet, safely.

Saturday, May 28: Went to Simm’s, Orville and others took many flights. We went on a special car. Returned on 7:30 car.

Note: “Car” refers to the interurban railroad that stops at Simm’s Station.

Friday, June 3: The boys flew nearly twenty times with both machines today. Brookins rose nearly 1,000 feet, twice.

Sunday, June 5: Orville announced that applicants must be mechanics, expert, able to run a machine.

Wednesday, June 8: The “birds” flew much at Simm’s, all low flights.

Friday, June 10: The aeroplanes are removed to Indianapolis.

Friday, June 17: The International Aero Club has an excursion to Indianapolis — about 300. Walter Brookins rises about 4,503 feet, gets lost, lights in a field, three miles from the Speedway at Indianapolis.

Sunday, June 19: Wilbur and Orville came home about 11:00 from Indianapolis. Wilbur started at 4:00 for New York. He went to apply for a modification of the decision of the Appellate U.S. Court, asking that Herring Co. and Paulhan be required to give bond.

Note: On June 14, Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision of Judge John Hazel on Jan. 3 and directs that the injunction granted the Wright Co. be dismissed and the requirement for bond be canceled.

Tuesday, June 21: Orville and Katharine start to Oberlin in afternoon. Ivonette and Leontine stay with me.

Note: On June 22 the Wrights received honorary doctor of laws degrees from Oberlin College where their sister Katharine had graduated.

Saturday, July 9: At home. Have an electric fan and electric light put onto my room.

Thursday, July 21: The boys move a flying machine to Simm’s Station, and make some experiments with wheels.

Thursday, July 28: I was at home all day. Knabenshue called in forenoon. Mr. Barnes dined with us. Katharine and Mrs. Knabenshue and Mr. Brewer and Mr. Plew of Chicago went to Simm’s Station, in automobile. Several flights were make, in all two hours flight, by pupils. Barnes is a secretary and director of the Wright Company.

Saturday, July 30: I went to Simms with Wilbur, Katharine and Mr. Griffith Brewer. Orville & Mr. Brewer flew 23 minutes. Mr. Coffyn flew alone twice, the last time 13 minutes

Wednesday, August 3: Wilbur got home at noon. Had no business of importance at New York.

Friday, August 19: Edward Harris came in the afternoon. The boys flew at Simm’s which Harris saw.

Sunday, August 21: At home all day. Mr. Parmalee called to see the boys Monday afternoon. Alexander Ochilvie (Ogilvie) and Coffyn and Brookins called.

Note: Philip Parmalee made the first aerial freight delivery when he flew from Dayton to Columbus, Ohio with several bolts of silk strapped to the passenger seat of his Wright Model B. Alexander Ogilvie is an Englishman who first met Wilbur in France in 1908. He traveled to Dayton to take flying lessons. Walter Brookins was a Dayton boy and Orville’s first aviation student. Frank Coffyn was trained to fly by the Wright brothers and a member of the Wright Exhibition Team.

Saturday, September 3: Mr. Alexander Ogilvie of England came to Dayton.

Friday, September 9: Mr. Russell and Ogilvie supped with us.

Saturday, September 10: Katharine went to Simms to witness flights.

Monday, September 12: Katharine went to Simms but there was no flying.

Wednesday, September 14: Ogilvie and Russell supped with Orville and Katharine.

Sunday, September 18: Alex. Ogilvie dined and supped with us. Mr. Coffyn and Brookins called in the afternoon.

Monday, September 19: Mr. P.O. Parmalee spent afternoon and evening with us. Wilbur started to Chicago at 10:00 p.m.

Wednesday, September 21: Orville is at the Inter-Aero banquet.

Note: Wilbur and Orville are honored at a banquet at Dayton Club given by Dayton Aeroplane Club and Dayton Aero Club.

Thursday, September 22: Wilbur comes back home from Chicago, before breakfast. Orville flew to Dayton, and back to Simms, 2,000 feet high coming, and 4,000 feet going. 100,000 people saw him fly. At 5:00 Orville comes on his flyer, about 2,000 feet high, turns at Williams Street, goes near our Home, flies along Third Street to the limits of the City, and rising to about 4,000 feet, goes up Mad River to their grounds. Came nine miles in ten minutes, returned slower. Many Thousands saw him.

Note: This is the first flight of the Wrights over the city. Flight is part of an Aviation Day program held during Exposition Week in Dayton.

Saturday, September 24: I was at home. Katharine went to Simms and flew a thousand feet high with Orville.

Tuesday, September 27: Wilbur went to Chicago tonight.

Wednesday, September 28: Wilbur is at Chicago to witness Mr. Brookins preparation for a flight, thence to Springfield for $10,000 prize offered by the Chicago Record-Herald.

Thursday, September 29: Today Walter Brookins flew from Chicago to Springfield, Ill. He stopped at Gilman, 75 miles at 11:30 and at Mt Pulaski, 136 miles. It was 192 ½ miles with two stops. He reached the state fairgrounds at 4:27 p.m. Wilbur followed in a rail.

Note: Wilbur followed the flight in a special car attached to an Illinois Central train.

Friday, September 30: Katharine went with Mrs. Sines to Simm’s Aviation grounds. Wilbur came home from Springfield, Ill.

Note: Orville began his first business venture in printing with his childhood friend Edward Sines. Sines remained with the Wrights until the printing business was discontinued.

Sunday, October 2, Wilbur goes at 10:00 p.m. to Washington, Penn., to inspect grounds of flight agreed upon by Knabenshue.

Note: Roy Knabenshue was hired by the Wrights to oversee and manage the Wright Exhibition Team.

Saturday, October 8: Mr. Hoxsey flies from Springfield, Ill. to St. Louis, Missouri. Today, the Women’s League edition of the Daily News was issued. Katharine reported the flying exploits and wrote an article for the paper.

Note: Arch Hoxsey was an auto mechanic hired by Knabenshue for the Wright Exhibition Team. He took President Theodore Roosevelt for his first airplane ride.

Wednesday, October 12: John Feight took us out at 8:00 a.m. to Simm’s Station and we saw the new machine, 28 x 3 ½ feet.

Note: The machine was the Model R, “Baby Grand.”

Thursday, October 13: Mr. Ogilvie called at 1:30, he being back from St. Louis. Katharine and Mrs. Russell & Wallace went at 4:00 to Wright Company’s ground at Simms Station. Frank Russell’s and Russell Alger called at 8:00.

Thursday October 30: Wilbur started to New York.

Saturday, October 22: Orville tried his eight-cylinder engine and it worked well. We sup at Frank Russell’s. 77 to 78 miles an hour. The machine is 22 feet long; 3 ½ feet broad. His eight-cylinder engine weighs itself 100 pounds more than the four-cylinder one. It gives over 50 horsepower.

Note: The new engine is for use on the Model R.

Sunday, October 23: Orville, Katharine and Mr. Ogilvie started at 4:00 for New York. I supped at Lorin’s. Ivonette and Leontine came home with me and staid the night.

Note: October 22-30 the Wright airplanes participate in an International Aviation Tournament at Belmont Park, N.Y. The Wrights took the “Baby Grand” with them.

Tuesday, October 25: Letter from Katharine came from New York. Orville makes nearly seventy miles an hour with our racer.

Thursday, October 27: Card from Katharine. Johnstone & Hoxsey were floated off by winds, to Middle Island and Brentwood, L.I. Johnson 55 miles, Hoxsey, 25 miles.

Friday, October 28, Hoxsey and Johnson returned. Drexel, Hamilton and Brookins are chosen for America’s contestants. Ogilvie for Great Britain.

Sunday, October 29: Netta brought telegram to Lorin from F. H. Russell saying that Brookins’s Racer fell with him, but no bones are broken in the race.

Note: The “Baby Grand,” piloted by Brookins is wrecked in a preliminary test in preparation for the International Aviation cup.

Monday, October 31: Johnstone climbs at New York (Belmont) 9,714 feet; is higher than world’s record.

Monday, November 7: Orville and Katharine went to Simms to see Mr. Phil. O. Parmalee start to Columbus with several bolts of silk in an aeroplane. He flew there in 61 minutes and delivered the goods.

Tuesday, November 8: It is a pleasant morning for Election Day. I voted the Republican ticket, except for one man. Wilbur started to New York at 4:00 afternoon. New carpet laid in two rooms. Election news unfavorable.

Sunday, November 13: Orville started for Germany, Berlin, to instruct them how to build better machines.

Thursday, November 17: This is the eighty-second anniversary of my birthday. I am as spry as most men at half my age. Probably I do not appear older than most men at seventy. I got a picture card from my nephew Edward M. Harris, Lincoln, Kansas. Ralph Johnstone dashed to death in Denver.

Note: Wright Exhibition Company flier Ralph Johnstone was killed in a crash at Overland Park, Denver. Wilbur, in New York, accompanied the widow to her home in Kansas City, Mo., and attended Johnstone’s funeral there.

Friday, November 18: Mr. F. Russell & Lorin met Wilbur at the train with Mrs. Johnstone, on way to Kansas City, from New York.

Saturday, November 19: Mrs. Russell, Mrs. Guthrie, and Mrs. Stevens came in for gambling with Katharine.

Wednesday, November 23: Chanute, Octave died in Chicago, aged 79 years, nearly. We see that Orville arrived in Berlin, Germany, today. Octave Chanute was born in Paris, Feb. 18, 1832. His parents came to America in 1838.

Thursday, November 24: Wilbur started at 9:00 for Chicago to attend Octave Chanute’s funeral.

Note: Wilbur’s tribute to Chanute, written shortly after his death, was published in Aeronautics.

Wednesday, November 30: Women came in this afternoon to play cards. Wilbur started to New York about 4:00.

Friday, December 2: Katharine took Mrs. Melba King to Simms, where they watched three short flights.

Monday, December 5: Katharine and I met at Miss Reece’s Photograph Gallery for me to have my Photograph taken. A letter from Orville, written Thanksgiving Day, came today. He writes from Berlin, Germany. He is well.

Thursday, December 8: Wilbur came home at 1:00 from New York.

Friday, December 9: Wilbur was giving testimony in the suit against them at Cincinnati, and is not at home for dinner.

Sunday, December 18: I went to Grace M.E. Church and heard Dr. Fuller. Spoke of His Looking for the Kingdom of God. There were different ideas of the Km., 1. Abraham’s, 2. David’s, 3. Daniel’s, etc. He said something I could not hear that seemed to smack of Darwinism. I slept most of the afternoon. Darwinism is nonsense.

The first accurate eyewitness article describing the Wright airplane in flight was published in an unlikely publication called “Gleanings in Bee Culture” in January 1905. Amos Ives Root, the magazine’s creator, publisher and editor, wrote it. Stranger yet, Root had the approval of the publicity-shy Wrights to write the article.

And Root was not just a casual observer, rather he was invited by the Wrights to witness, keep detailed notes and write about an important event in the history of aviation taking place at Huffman Prairie. The Wrights planned to attempt the first flight in a complete circle. Doing so would validate the Wrights’ mastery of three-axis control. Here is Root’s description of the event as he wrote it in “Gleanings:”

“It was my privilege, on the 20th day of September, 1904 to see the first successful trip of an airship, without a balloon to sustain it, that the worlds has ever made, that is, to turn the corners and come back to the starting-point.”

“During all of these experiments they kept so near the soft marshy ground that a fall would be no serious accident, either to the machine or its occupant. In fact, so carefully have they managed, that, during these years of experimenting, nothing has happened to do any serious damage to the machine nor to give the boys more than what might be called a severe scratch.”

“I think great praise is due along this very line. I told you there was not another machine equal to such a task as I mentioned, on the face of the earth; and, furthermore, just now as I dictate there is probably not another man besides these two who has learned the trick of controlling it.”

“In making this last trip of rounding the circle, the machine was kept near the ground, except in making the turns. If you watch a large bird when it swings around in a circle you will see its wings are tipped up at an incline. The machine must follow the same rule; and to clear the tip of the inside wing it was found necessary to rise to a height of perhaps 20 or 25 feet.”

“When the engine shut off, the apparatus glides to the ground very quietly, and alights on something much like a pair of light sled-runners, sliding over the grassy surface perhaps a rod or more. Whenever it is necessary to slow up the speed before alighting, you turn the nose up hill. It will then climb right up on the air until the momentum is exhausted, when, by skillful management, it can be dropped as lightly as a feather.”

“Since the above was written they have twice succeeded in making four complete circles without alighting, each circle passing the starting point. These circles are nearly a mile in circumference each; and the last flight made Dec. 12 could have been prolonged indefinitely had it not been that the rudder was in such position it cramped the hand of the operator so he was obliged to alight. The longest flight took only five minutes and four seconds by the watch. Over one hundred flights have been made during the past summer. Some of them are 50 or 60 feet above the ground.”

Root, age 64, didn’t waste any time traveling the 200 miles from his home in Medina, Ohio near Cleveland to Dayton. He boarded with the Dave Beard family whose farm house was the closest to Huffman Prairie. On the morning of September 20, he walked over to the flying field and introduced himself to the Wright brothers and asked for permission to observe their experiments. Surprisingly, the Wrights readily agreed and invited him to be their guest. A long time friendship began soon after.

How is it that Root was readily accepted while many others writers were rebuffed? It turns out that Root and the Wrights had many things in common.

Root grew up on a farm, was a good reader and read a lot at an early age. He had an intense interest in the natural world, particularly in science. He loved machines and was interested in chemistry and electricity. He owned the first bicycle in Northern Ohio.

The bicycle was the kind with a large front wheel in front. It was difficult to ride, but Root was determined to learn how even though people laughed at his effort.

He left home at an early age and with a partner, toured the Midwest giving demonstrations on electricity and magnetism. That enterprise ended in tragedy when his partner and their horse drowned while crossing a swollen stream. His story on the tragedy, his first venture in writing, appeared in the Medina Gazette.

He then became interested in jewelry, read up on the subject, built a factory making jewelry and became wealthy. In the process he married a local girl and subsequently had five children.

He became interested in bees when one day a swarm of bees hovered over his workplace. As a hobby he read every thing he could find on bees and became the leading authority in the world on bees. He founded the A. I. Root company in 1869 and manufactured a new beehive that for the first time made it possible for beekeepers to harvest their honey without destroying the colony of bees.

He decided to share what he had learned with others so he founded and published a trade journal about bees and named it “Gleanings in Bee Culture.” By 1904, it had been in publication for 30 years.

“Gleanings” became more than a publication on bees, it included the other things that Root was interested in such as gardening, science and technology and religion and had an international circulation of some 150,000.

Religion was important facet of Root’s life. His employees were expected to attend daily prayer meetings on company time. He didn’t believe in drinking alcohol, smoking or working on Sunday. He believed that technological progress was a gift from God and would result in social betterment.

Many farmers at the time considered automobiles to be a menace. Local citizens considered Root eccentric.

The beginning of Root’s article in “Gleanings” reflects his God-technological sentiments.

“What has God wrought? – Num. 23:23.

“Dear friends, I have a wonderful story to tell you – a story that, in some respects, out rivals the Arabian Night fables – a story, too, with a moral that I think many of the younger ones need, and perhaps some of the older ones too if they will heed it.”

“God in his great mercy has permitted me to be, at least somewhat, instrumental in ushering in and introducing to the great wide world an invention that may outrank the electric cars, the automobiles, and all other methods of travel, and one which may fairly take a place beside the telephone and wireless telegraphy. Am I claiming a good deal? Well, I will tell my story, and you shall be the judge. In order to make the story a helpful one I may stop and turn aside a good many times to point a moral.”

“— These two, perhaps by accident, or maybe as a matter of taste, began studying the flights of birds and insects. From this they turned their attention to what has been done in the way of enabling men to fly. They not only studied nature, but they procured the best books, and I think I may say all the papers, the world contains on this subject.”

“When I first became acquainted with them, and expressed a wish to read up all there was on the subject, they showed me a library that astonished me; and I soon found they were thoroughly versed, not only in regard to our present knowledge, but every thing that had been done in the past.”

“These boys (they are men now), instead of spending their summer vacation with crowds, and with such crowds as are often questionable, as so many do, went away by themselves to a desert place by the seacoast. You and I have in years past found enjoyment and health in sliding down hill on the snow; but these boys went off to the sandy waste on the Atlantic coast to slide down hill too: but instead of sliding on snow and ice they slid on air.”

“With a gliding machine made of sticks and cloth they learned to glide and soar from the top of a hill to the bottom; and by making not only hundreds but more than a thousand experiments, they became so proficient in guiding these gliding machines that they could sail like a bird, and control its movements up and down as well as sidewise. Now, this was not altogether for fun or boys’ play. They had purpose in view.”

The Wrights and Root shared the same moral principles and demonstrated the same passion, desire and commitment for what they believed in. They also shared the characteristics of a contrarian. Root was someone who could appreciate what the Wrights had accomplished.

Root stood next to Orville near the catapult directly in the flight path during one flight and described the exciting experience as follows:

“The engine is started and got up to speed. The machine is held until ready to start by a sort of trap to be sprung when all is ready; then with a tremendous flapping and snapping of the four-cylinder engine, the huge machine springs aloft. ”

“When it first turned that circle, and came near the starting-point, I was right in front of it; and I said then, and believe still, it was one of the grandest sights, if not the grandest sight of my life. Imagine a locomotive that has left its track, and is climbing up in the air right toward you – a locomotive without any wheels, we will say, but with white wings instead, we will further say – a locomotive made of aluminum.”

“Well, now imagine this white locomotive, with wings that spread 20 feet each way, coming right toward you with a tremendous flap of its propellers, and you will have something like what I saw. The younger brother bade me move to one side for fear it might come down suddenly; but I tell you friends, the sensation that one feels in such a crisis is something hard to describe.”

Root asked plenty of questions. One had to do with lift.

“I confess it is not clear to me, even yet, how that little aluminum engine, with four paddles, does the work. I asked the question,

“Boys, would that engine and these two propellers raise the machine from the ground if placed horizontally above it?”

“Certainly not, Mr. Root. They would not lift a quarter of its weight.”

“Then how is it possible that it sustains it in the air as it is?”

“The answer involves a strange point in the wonderful discovery of air navigation. When some large bird or butterfly is soaring with motionless wings, a very little power from behind will keep it moving.”

“Well if this motion is kept up, a very little incline of the wings will keep it from falling. A little more incline, and a little more push from behind, and the bird or the butterfly, or the machine created by human hands, will gradually rise in the air. I was surprised at the speed, and I was astonished at the wonderful power of this comparatively small apparatus.”

Root again emphasizes that God welcomes technological change in a follow-up article in the next issue of “Gleanings” published on January 15th.

“It has often been remarked that one of the most beautiful sights in the world is a ship under full sail, especially a new sailing vessel with clean white canvas.”

There is something especially exhilarating about the way in which the canvas catches the wind and sends the ship scudding through the waves. But to me the sight of a machine like the one I have pictured, with its white canvas planes and rudders subject to human control, is one of the grandest and most inspiring sights I have ever seen on earth; and when you see one of these graceful crafts sailing over your head, and possibly over your home, as I expect you will in the near future, see if you don’t agree with me that the flying machine is one is one of God’s most gracious and precious gifts.”

Root was concerned about others stealing the Wrights’ secrets.

“I may add, however, that the apparatus is secured by patents, both in this and in foreign countries; and as nobody else has as yet succeeded in doing any thing like what they have done I hope no millionaire or syndicate will try to rob them of the invention or laurels they have so fairly and honestly earned.”

Root was prescient in his observation. It wasn’t long before Glen Curtiss and the Smithsonian Institution in this country and others in Europe would steal their secrets and try to claim credit for their invention.

Even today some people credit Glen Curtiss with making the first public flight of an airplane in the U.S. on July 4, 1908. For this feat the Aero Club of America awarded him American pilot license No. 1.

Roots also had thoughts about the future of the airplane.

“When Columbus discovered America he did not know what the outcome would be, and no one at the time knew; and I doubt if the wildest enthusiast caught a glimpse of what really did come from his discovery. In a like manner these brothers have probably not even a faint glimpse of what their discovery is going to bring to the children of men. No one living can give a guess of what is coming along this line, much better than any one living could conjecture the final outcome of Columbus’ experiment when he pushed off through the trackless waters. Possibly we may be able to fly over the North Pole, even if we should not succeed in tacking the “stars and stripes” to its uppermost end.”

Why did the Wrights choose Root to publish a detailed account of their exploits? They were obviously comfortable with Root, but I think there was more to it than that. I think they relished having a nontraditional publication out scoop the establishment press. Such an event would appear to the Wrights’ sense of humor

They gave Root the permission just before Christmas to go to press with his article. The Wrights wanted to wait until they were not with their experiments for 1904 before the article was published.

Root also sent his article to the Scientific American magazine for publication, but the Scientific American didn’t believe the story was worthy of publication and therefore rejected it.

Note: The Root Company is still in business in Medina, Ohio, and today manufactures high quality candles. (www.rootcandles.com)