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January 12, Orville and Katharine joined Wilbur in France. Orville had
spent six weeks in the hospital in Washington, then Katharine escorted him
back to Dayton for further convalescence. When he stepped off the boat in
France, he was walking with two canes, but he was walking nonetheless.
More important, he was glad to be reunited with his brother and to share
some of the adulation in Europe.
As the weather had turned cold in Le Mans, Wilbur, Orville, Katharine
moved their flying operations to Pau in southern France. Royalty, the rich,
and other members of European high society followed them, mesmerized not
just with the airplanes but with the Wright's poise and lack of
affectation. The Wrights were less impressed with their camp followers.
"Princes and millionaires are as thick as thieves," Wilbur wrote
Journalists and photographers also followed, and the Wrights were
constantly in the news on both sides of the Atlantic. Even the people of
Dayton, Ohio, who had been incredibly blasé about their native sons
accomplishments finally began to take some interest. In mid-April a
newsreel of Wilbur's flights in Le Mans made its rounds of the Dayton
movie houses. Milton Wright saw his son for the first time in almost a
year on the screen.
On April 1, 1909, the Wrights traveled to Centocelle, Italy (outside
Rome) to train two pilots for the Italian army. The great and near-great
followed them again, enthralled by their every flight. One of the people
to see them fly in Italy was the American industrialist, J.P. Morgan. It
was just a chance meeting, but it would have far-reaching consequences.
Several months later, Morgan would make the Wrights an offer they couldn't
By the end of the month, the Wrights were reluctantly preparing to
leave Europe. The outstanding contract with the U.S. Army was looming —
the Wright had to get ready to fly before the summer's end. So they packed
up and headed to England to tie up some loose ends. There they concluded a
contract with the Short Brothers, English balloon manufacturers, to build
six Wright aircraft for various customers outside the French syndicates
purview. (One of these was Charles Rolls of Rolls-Royce — he became the
first individual to purchase an airplane for his own private use.) After
just two days in England, the Wrights boarded a ship for America and home.
Orv and Kate with a young steward aboard a passenger
ship bound for France.
Transporting the Flyer from Le Mans to Pau.
Will tests the wind at Pau with Orv looking on.
Preparing to take Katharine for a ride, Will ties her
skirt to keep it from being blown back. Afterwards, a notion would spread
that this incident inspired the
but it was untrue.
Wilbur and Katharine ready to fly.
Katharine and Orville strolling with some European
royalty at a flying field.
Wilbur with a countess.
European royalty helps pull the weight to the top of the
derrick to cock the launch catapult.
A political cartoon shows European royalty swooning over
Wilbur and the Flyer.