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are a few little known (but fascinating) facts about the Wright brothers:
The Wright brothers received major awards on five separate occasions.
Congressional Medal of Honor, awarded June 17,
After the Wrights had returned home from a triumphant tour of Europe, they
were awarded this medal during the Wright Brothers' Home Days
Celebration on June 17 and 18, 1909. They also received gold medals
from the State of Ohio and the City of Dayton.
Coupe Michelin d'Aviation, awarded
On December 31, 1908, Wilbur Wright set a world's record flying for
2 hours and 18 minutes, traveling 77 miles (123 kilometers) at
Avours, France. For this the Aero Club of France awarded him the
Michelin Cup and 20,000 francs.
Langley Medal, awarded February 10, 1910
Wilbur and Orville Wright received the newly created "Langley Medal"
for their aeronautical achievements from President Howard Taft at
the White House in Washington, DC.
Legion of Honor, awarded June 20, 1909.
Created by Napoleon Bonaparte, the French Legion of Honor is an order of
merit given to individuals without regard to birth or religion, provided
they swear to uphold the values of liberty and equality. Orville, Wilbur,
and Katharine Wright were so honored after their successful aviation
demonstrations in 1908 and 1909.
- Collier Trophy, awarded February 3, 1914.
Established in 1911 by Robert Collier, the Collier Trophy was presented
annually for the most significant contribution to aeronautics. Glenn
Curtiss won the trophy for the years 1911 and 1912, and Orville Wright won
it for 1913 for the Wrights' automatic stabilization system, the
forerunner of the automatic pilot.
The original design for the 1908 Michelin Cup. After Wilbur won it,
the Farman airplane was replaced with a Wright Flyer.
The Wright brothers on their way to the White House to receive the
Langley Medal. The bearded gentleman in the top hat is Alexander
Orville Wright was active in the promotion of scouting and sat on the Dan
Beard Council of the Boy Scouts of America. He was the scouting advisor
for the Aviation Merit Badge. (Who better?)
The Aviation Merit Badge of the Boy Scouts of America.
Orville Wright survived eight major crashes:
- While flying a glider at Kitty Hawk, NC on 23 September 1902.
- While flying the 1904 Wright Flyer II at Huffman Prairie near
Dayton, OH on 24 August 1904.
- While flying the 1904 Wright Flyer II at Huffman Prairie on 1
- While flying the 1905 Wright Flyer III at Huffman Prairie on 14
- While flying a Wright Model A at Fort Myer, VA on 17 September
1908. This was by far his worst accident; breaking his leg and
killing his passenger, Lt. Thomas Selfridge.
- While flying the Wright Military Flyer at Fort Myer, VA a year
later on 2 July 1909.
- While flying the 1911 Wright Glider at Kitty Hawk, NC on 18
October 1911. It was during this trip that Orville set the first
soaring record, staying aloft for nearly 10 minutes.
- While flying the 1911 Wright Glider at Kitty Hawk, NC on 23
October 1911. Both crashes occur when the glider is upset while
flying in a high wind.
Wilbur also experienced many crashes, most of them minor. His most
serious crash was on 14 May 1908 when he lost control of the 1905 Wright
Flyer III (reconfigured as a Wright Model A) while testing a new engine,
a new control system, and upright seating at Kitty Hawk, NC. The
airplane was damaged beyond repair and never flew again, but Wilbur was
The Wright brothers worst accident occurred at Fort Myer, VA when a
propeller broke and snagged the wires that held the rudder in place.
The Flyer became uncontrollable and dove for the ground.
Orville Wright is carried from the wreck at Fort Myer.
Neither Wilbur or Orville Wright received a high school diploma. Wilbur
completed his senior year at Richmond High School in Indiana with good
grades (about a 95 average), but did not apply for a diploma. The Wright
family moved to Dayton, Ohio before commencement and Wilbur never went
back to claim his certificate. Orville started a printing business when he
was 15 years old and was running a weekly newspaper by his junior year of
high school. His grades were mediocre (except for the sciences) and he had
obviously lost interest in school, so he did not go back for his senior
Despite the lack of a high school certificate, both Wilbur and Orville
earned honorary graduate and post-graduate college degrees.
Honorary degrees awarded to Wilbur and Orville Wright
while Wilbur was still living:
University of Munich, Munich, Germany —
Honorary Doctor of Engineering, March 5, 1909.
Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana —
Honorary Bachelor of Science, June 16, 1909.
Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio — Honorary
Doctor of Laws, June 22, 1910.
After Wilbur died in 1912, Orville was awarded these degrees:
Polytechnicum of Chicago — Honorary Doctor
of Philosophy, March 31, 1915.
Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut —
Honorary Doctor of Science, June 23, 191
Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana —
Honorary Masters of Science, June 14, 1917.
University of Cincinnati — Honorary Doctor
of Science, June 16, 1917.
Yale University— Honorary Master
of Arts, June 18, 1919.
University of Michigan — Honorary
Doctor of Engineering, June 16, 1924.
Ohio State University—Honorary Doctor of
Science, June 10,1930.
Harvard University — Honorary Doctor of
Laws, June 19, 1930.
Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana —
Honorary Doctor of Laws, June 15, 1931
Huntington College, Huntington, Indiana —
Honorary Doctor of Laws, June 10, 1935
University of Dayton, Dayton, Ohio —
Honorary Doctor of Science, December 19, 1943.
- Otterbein College, Westerville, Ohio — Honorary Doctor of
Science, June 9, 1947
All totaled, there were 15 honorary degrees awarded to one or
both of the brothers.
Orville's report card from 1888, the last full year that he attended
Orville receives and honorary doctorate degree in Engineering for
the University of Dayton in 1943.
Huffman Prairie, where the Wrights developed their experimental
powered aircraft into a practical flying machine, first came to the
attention of the world in the 1830's when botanist John Leonard Riddell
discovered three new species of plants on the "failed bog."
Riddell was also one of the earliest science fiction writers and wrote
about "aerial navigation."
When the Wrights asked to use it as a flying field in 1904, the
84-acre tract was still boggy due to poor drainage. When the ground
froze in the winter, the expanding ice created "frost heaves" in the
peat, make the surface soft and springy. Walking over it feels akin to walking on a
lumpy mattress. The Wrights may have chosen it partly this reason – they hoped to soft ground would provide some
protection from hard landings and crashes. Whatever the reason, it was
unproductive as farmland, so the owner Torrence Huffman needed little
convincing to allow Orville and Wilbur to use it.
Huffman Prairie also
offered easy access. The Dayton area had an extensive electric rail
system – the "Interurban" – and a spur ran between Dayton and the
village of Osborn. The stop right before you reached Osborn, called
Simms Station, was just across the road from Huffman Prairie. This was
another reason they chose this spot for their flying field. It was
relatively secluded, but they could easily commute to the Prairie from
The Wrights continued to use Huffman Prairie long after
they had developed a practical airplane. In 1910, they built a large
hangar directly across from the Interurban stop and began to train both
civilian and military pilots to fly. The Wrights set up temporary
schools in other parts of the country, but the Wright School of Aviation
at Simms Station was their main training facility until 1915. One
hundred and nineteen pioneer aviators learned to fly here.
As the United States enter World War I, Colonel Edward Deeds, a
Dayton industrialist and a member of the Munitions Standards Board,
mentioned to Major General George Squire of the US Signal Corp that
Huffman Prairie should be used to train pilots for the war. In May 1917,
the US Signal Corps leased Huffman Prairie and 2,245 acres surrounding
it for a US Signal Corps Aviation School. They named it Wilbur Wright
Five months later, the Signal Corps also established a modest
experimental airplane testing facility near downtown Dayton called
McCook Field. In 1924 concerned Dayton businessmen, aware that the US
Army had outgrown McCook Field, purchased 4500 acres of land, including
Wilbur Wright Field and Huffman Prairie. They donated this to the US
government and in 1927 the expanded facility became Wright Field. The
testing facility at McCook Field, then known as the Air Corp Material
Division, was moved to Wright Field.
In July 1931, a portion of Wright
Field was designated Patterson Field in honor of Lt. Frank Stuart
Patterson, son and nephew of the founders of National Cash Register
Company of Dayton, Ohio. Patterson had died while testing an airplane at
McCook Field. His father and uncle (Frank J. and John H. Patterson) had
been instrumental in buying the land that had become Wright Field and
keeping military aviation in Dayton; the renaming honored them as much
as it did Lt. Patterson. In September 1947, Congress created the United
States Air Force as a separate military service and in January 1948, the
same month that Orville Wright died, Wright Field and Patterson Field
were recombined into Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
Huffman Prairie still exists, mostly untouched since 1915, as part
of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Area C. Despite the fact that it is
part of a military base, it is open to the public except in times of
high military alert.
The frost heaves at Huffman Prairie formed hundreds of small, soft
Interurban electric rail cars.
"Wilbur Wright Field 1923" by John McCoy. The huge airplane is the
Barlington Bomber, a one-of-a-kind experimental aircraft that was
Wright Field in 1930.
Huffman Prairie in 2013 still looks much like it did in 1904.
After the first flights on December 17, 1903, Wilbur and Orville's brother
Lorin carried the news to an Associated Press representative Frank Tunison.
Frank also worked as a reporter at the Dayton Journal. Tunison
didn't think the four short flights were newsworthy and declined to run
the story – ironic since Orville and Wilbur had specifically asked the
telegraph operator in Kitty Hawk not to tell the local press; they wanted
to story to come out of Dayton so that their home town would get the
glory. The telegraph operator blabbed anyway, and an inaccurate story
appeared in the Virginia Pilot. This was repeated in the Cincinnati
Enquirer and the New York American on December 18. Later
that same day, the Dayton Daily News ran the first accurate account
of the flight.
Two newspapers that ran a wildly inaccurate account of the first flight.
In the Wright family, Wilbur was often referred to a "Ullam" and
Orville was "Bubs." Ullam was the German form of
"William." Wilbur's mother Susan was the daughter of German immigrants;
either she or his maternal grandparents may have given Wilbur his
nickname. Their sister Katharine went by the nickname
"Swes," an affectionate German
diminutive for "little sister." .
The Wright family had at least three pets that we know about. When Wilbur
and Orville were children, they had a cat named "Old Mom." When
Wilbur was in France in 1908, he adopted a stray dog he called
"Flyer." Flyer traveled through France with Wilbur and was later
adopted by Hart O. Berg (The Wrights agent in Europe) and his wife
Edith. Author/historian Suzanne Tate has written a children's book about
this lucky stray entitled
Flyer: A Tale of the Wright Dog.
Later in life, Orville
bought a St. Bernard pup from Nina Dodd’s White Star
Kennels in Long Branch, New Jersey for $75 and had him shipped to
Dayton. Orville's sister Katharine named him "Scipio" after the famous
Roman general that had defeated Hannibal and thwarted an invasion of
Rome. The dog was much loved. When Orville died 15 years after Scipio
had passed, there were still photos of the St. Bernard in his wallet.
"Flyer" was a stray that turned up at Wilbur's hangar in France as
he was assembling his airplane.
In traveling to Kitty Hawk, the Wright brothers took the Big
Four train from Dayton to Cincinnati, where they caught a C &O train
to Old Point Comfort, VA. From there they took a steamer to Norfolk; a
Norfolk and Southern train to Elizabeth City, NC; and a sailboat to Kitty
Hawk or Manteo, NC. The C&O traveled straight through West Virginia,
including passage through the Big Bend tunnel of John Henry fame.
This 1898 railroad map shows the Wrights' path from Dayton to Kitty
Hawk. Yellow indicates travel by rail; blue is by ship.
In 1916, Orville took his sister and father on
their first family vacation ever. They stayed at a cottage on Georgian
Bay in Lake Huron and Orville fell in love with the rough landscape. In
many ways, it was like Kitty Hawk, completely devoid of modern
conveniences and unwanted interruptions. Before they returned home,
Orville had purchased a 20-acre island with a few primitive buildings.
Thereafter, Orville and Katharine spent two months of every year on
Lambert Island, enjoying the wildness.
If you would like to visit Lambert Island in Google Earth,