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Their Own Words
his letter from Alexander Graham Bell to his wife Mabel Hubbard Bell
documents Bell's interest in the Wright brothers a year before he founds the AEA.
It's an especially curious letter because Bell, who had an abiding
interest in aviation, seems so far out of the loop. He talks about the
secretive Wrights and bemoans the scarcity of information when, in fact,
detailed articles on Wright gliders and airplanes have been appearing in
the press -- both American and European -- since 1902. In fact, this
letter was written not long after the
Aero Club of America endorsed the Wright brothers and published
the brothers own descriptions of their highly successful flights in 1904
June 26, 1906
Cape Breton, N.S.
The French Journal L'Aerophile for January 1906 contains some
interesting details concerning the flying machine of the Wright Brothers
of Dayton Ohio. It seems strange that our enterprising American newspapers
have failed to keep tract of the experiments in Dayton Ohio for the
machine is so large that it must be visible over a considerable extent of
country and an electrical tramway runs right by the field where the
experiments were made. Numerous persons residing in the neighborhood of
Dayton have witnessed the experiments and yet hardly any details of the
apparatus employed have appeared in print in America.
This seems to be due to the desire of secrecy. The Wright Brothers have
made their experiments at a time when few people excepting the surrounding
farmers have been out. They have declined to give the newspapers any
information and when they discovered that the Dayton Daily News contained
an article describing their apparatus they made arrangements with the
Editor to have the edition suppressed.1
It seems however that a French Journal L'Auto sent to Dayton Ohio one
of their correspondents, M. Robert Coquelle who interviewed various
witnesses and although he could get no details from the Wright Brothers
themselves he succeeded in obtaining for a price a copy of the suppressed
number of the Dayton Daily News. He sent this to France and a French
translation of it has appeared in L'Auto. L'Aerophile also gives extracts
from it in the number published January 1906, Pages 18 and 19. Considering
the fact that this information was published as long ago as the first of
January 1906, it seems strange that no American journal has yet got ahold
of the information.
The January number of L'Aerophile also contains a letter from the
Wright Brothers to the Editor of the Journal giving such information as
they care to make public, but the information has not so far as I am aware
yet appeared in the English Language. The same number of L'Aerophile
contains a French translation of an interesting letter from a Mr. Weaver
(who seems to be an American) addressed to M. Frank S. Lahm, but this
letter too has not appeared in English. Mr. Weaver gives a plan sketch of
the field where the experiments were made with its surroundings, and the
results of interviews with the farmers who witnessed the experiments.
The same number of L'Aerophile contains a French translation of a
letter signed by Wilbur and Orville Wright, dated 3rd of January 1906, and
addressed to M. Frank S. Lahm relating to the purchase of his machine by
the French. The number of L'Aerophile published December 1905, pages 265
to 272 contains an account of the negotiations of the Wright Brothers with
the French government, with pictures of the two brothers. Several letters
are published from the Wright Brothers to persons in France with the
object of inducing the French Government to purchase their machine. The
price asked being one million francs. Cablegrams backwards and forwards
across the Atlantic are also given.
I do not understand how it is that so little attention has been paid
to this matter by the American press. I am now studying carefully the
details published. I wonder whether Bert would like me to ask Mr.
Largelamb to send him some account of the matter.
Your loving husband,
Mr. A. Graham Bell
Twin Oaks, Woodley Lane,
Washington, D. C.
U. S. A
1This was a rumor, but it had some basis in fact. The Wrights had asked the Dayton newspapers not to
publish photographs of their airplane until it was protected by patents,
and the papers respected their wishes. But several news items (without
photos) appeared in the Dayton Daily News and other local papers after the
Wright's phenomenal success in 1905. The French correspondent obtained a
copy of the Dayton Daily News story simply by walking into the newspaper
office and asking to purchase a back issue.
Alexander Graham Bell.
Mabel Hubbard Bell.