Were they the First?

Essay by cisux March 2004

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Were They the First?

Wilbur and Orville were pioneers in aviation who achieved great success and deserve acclaim, but it seems that anyone who questions the claims made on their behalf is considered ignorant, or worse. Although there are records of the time that show what really happened, the popular version as taught to school children seems to have been accepted by even aviation professionals. These brothers, talented as they undoubtedly were, did not wake up one day and decide to invent an airplane. They used other work, by other aviation pioneers, as a starting point. Yes, the Wrights made great progress and by their skill and perseverance made a series of successful flights. Flights that excited the imagination of the world and spurred popular acceptance of a new science. But were they the first?

One of the ways that the Wrights were different from the other aviation pioneers of the time was the way they saw the profit potential in flying, and they were quick to claim that they had been, indeed, the first to fly a powered airplane.

They were also quick to take legal action to press their claims. For a time, until the First World War in fact, they were generally successful in litigation, receiving royalties on their patents and in doing so, they set aviation, and particularly American aviation, back. For instance they demanded a sum equal to twenty percent of all monies made, including gate receipts at flying displays, by those who flew virtually any flying machine for gain. They were determined that even those who flew in other countries should pay, and their claim was made on the basis of US patents for some aviation designs that had already been used overseas. It is interesting to read about the battles that Curtis, for...