Wright Brothers Collection

Biographical / Historical Note

Wilbur and Orville Wright were the children of Reverend Milton Wright, a United Brethren Bishop, and his wife, Susan. They had two older brothers, Reuchlin and Lorin, and a younger sister, Katherine. Wilbur (1867-1912) was born in Millerville, Indiana,...

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Wilbur and Orville Wright were the children of Reverend Milton Wright, a United Brethren Bishop, and his wife, Susan. They had two older brothers, Reuchlin and Lorin, and a younger sister, Katherine. Wilbur (1867-1912) was born in Millerville, Indiana, and Orville (1871-1948) was born in Dayton, Ohio.

During their childhood the two brothers shared mutual interests and were inseparable in their activities, which included making woodcuts, photography, printing and flying. Remarking on their home environment, Orville later said they were encouraged "to pursue intellectual interest; to investigate whatever aroused curiosity." Neither Orville nor Wilbur graduated from high school although they completed high school classes.

At the age of 14, Orville went into the printing business and was joined by Wilbur. The two brothers eventually built their own printing presses and published several weekly and daily papers. In 1892, they formed the Wright Cycle Co., selling and repairing bicycles. They began building their own bicycles in 1895. The money earned in their printing and bicycle businesses financed their experiments in flying.

During the years 1900 and 1901, Orville and Wilbur built their first two gliders and took them to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, to test them. They experimented with glider flying for three years before attempting a powered flight. During this time they studied air pressures on curved surfaces and mastered how to control and fly a plane before applying power to it. On December 17, 1903, with five people in attendance, Orville made the first flight in a power-driven, heavier-than-air machine at Kitty Hawk, N.C. The flight lasted twelve seconds, covered 120 feet and soared 2-10 feet off the ground. The general public had little enthusiasm for their work so the two brothers went abroad where their planes were built by foreign governments, and they were acclaimed as heroes. Their hometown, Dayton, honored them in 1909 with a great celebration. The brothers eventually gained fame and recognition; however, they never attained subsequent flying achievements.

It's unknown when Henry Ford and Orville Wright first met. Henry Ford was evidently aware of the early aviation achievements of the two brothers. Ford, along with his son, Edsel, first became involved in the aviation industry when they backed William Stout in forming the Stout Metal Airplane Co. in 1923. When the Edison Institute was dedicated (1929), Orville Wright was among the guests. These contacts, and others, led Ford to move the Wright Brothers 1870 birthplace and late 19th Century Cycle Shop to the Institute in 1937-1938.

Wilbur Wright died in the family home of typhoid fever in 1912, just as the planes he and Orville were manufacturing received worldwide recognition. Orville Wright continued his work in the aviation field until his death in 1948.

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Scope and Content Note

The collection is comprised of published material, photographs, and some correspondence, primarily from the period following the first Wright brothers' flight on December 17, 1903. The collection contains seven series, covering the Wright-Langley controversy,...

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The collection is comprised of published material, photographs, and some correspondence, primarily from the period following the first Wright brothers' flight on December 17, 1903. The collection contains seven series, covering the Wright-Langley controversy, the Wright Aeronautical Corporation, Henry Ford's purchase of the Wright Cycle Shop, and the dedication of the Wright home and cycle shop at Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan, 1938.

Series I, the Wright-Langley Controversy series, contains papers regarding the Smithsonian Institution's early belief that Langley was the first to fly. Magazine, newspapers and letters cover the controversy which went on for approximately fifteen years. The Smithsonian Institution eventually recognized the Wrights were the first to fly, and the Wright Brothers then brought their plane from England for permanent display at the Museum.

Series II, the Wright Aeronautical Corporation series, includes items pertaining to the corporation, including brochures on many of the engines which they designed, a booklet and advertisement for their flight-school and a memorandum on the Curtiss-Wright Patent Suit.

Series III, the Orville Wright and Henry Ford Activities series, contains newspaper clippings and the paperwork surrounding Henry Ford's purchase of the Wright Cycle Shop and its movement to Greenfield Village. A list of the items received from Orville Wright is included. The Wright Dedication (April 16, 1938) at Greenfield) Village is also covered in this series. The preparation work for the ceremony, copies of the addresses by various speakers and photographs of the actual dedication events are found. One box of the series contains the Dedication Program, booklet for the Dedication Celebration and copies of a bound Dedication Book.

Series IV, the Scrapbook series, contains a number of scrapbooks/chronologies covering the Wright Brothers' activities from 1867-1933. These scrapbooks include articles from various newspapers and magazines covering their earliest interest and experiments in flying to the years following Wilbur's death in 1912.

Series V, the Photographs series, consists of photographs of various activities of the Wright brothers. The series includes a photograph of the first historic flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1903 as well as photographs of the celebrations and activities of the two brothers after that flight. Also included are photographs from a 1909 Dayton celebration, the Marker and Memorial Dedication at Kitty Hawk, and photographs of Henry Ford and Orville Wright.

Series VI, the Printed Matter series, includes magazine articles and newspaper clippings. Every subject involving the two brothers is covered including their aviation activities, relationship with the Smithsonian and activities honoring them in later years.

Series VII, the Miscellaneous series, includes a variety of items related to the Wright brothers. Items include a telephone directory printed by the Wrights, magazines originally printed by the Wrights, fabric from the original Kitty Hawk plane, and information from an interview with Orville concerning shop locations, companies and their birthplace. An oversized box contains newspaper clippings, including The Evening Item, June 12, 1890, printed by the Wrights.

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Collection Details

Object ID: 82.300.1623.0
Creator: Henry Ford (Organization). Benson Ford Research Center 
Inclusive Dates: 1867-2006
Size: 5.2 cubic ft., 2 oversize boxes and 1 framed item
Language: English

Collection Access & Use

Item Location: Benson Ford Research Center

Access Restrictions: The collection is open for research.

Credit: From the Collections of The Henry Ford.

Related Objects

Wright Cycle Shop

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Wright Home

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Orville and Wilbur Wright at Their Home in Dayton,...

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Digitized Artifacts From This Collection

In many cases, not all artifacts have been digitized.
Contact us for more information about this collection.

Portrait of Wilbur Wright, Le Mans, France, 1908

  Details

Portrait of Wilbur Wright, Le Mans, France, 1908

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Photographic print

Summary

Wilbur Wright was one of the most celebrated men in Europe after his series of spectacular demonstration flights at Le Mans, France, in 1908. Monarchs, politicians, and business tycoons came to watch his seemingly effortless mastery of the sky. Wright's cloth newsboy cap became a personal trademark and a fashion fad among stylish French men.

Creators

Unknown 

Object ID

P.188.22635.F

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Gift of Ford Motor Company.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

Portrait of Wilbur Wright, Le Mans, France, 1908

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

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Wright Airplane outside Hangar at Fort Myer, Virginia, September 1908

  Details

Wright Airplane outside Hangar at Fort Myer, Virginia, September 1908

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Photographic print

Summary

While his brother was demonstrating their airplane in France, Orville Wright made demonstration flights of his own for the United States Army Signal Corps at Fort Myer, Virginia. All went well until September 17, 1908, when a cracked propeller caused the plane to crash. Orville survived with serious injuries, but passenger Lt. Thomas Selfridge was killed -- the first airplane fatality.

Object ID

82.300.1623.2

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

Wright Airplane outside Hangar at Fort Myer, Virginia, September 1908

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

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  Details

Wright Brothers Memorial, Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, 1928-1929

  Details

Wright Brothers Memorial, Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, 1928-1929

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Photographic print

Date Made

1929

Summary

This monument marked the spot where Wilbur Wright assembled the Wright brothers' first experimental glider in 1900. The marker was the brainchild of William Tate, who hosted the Wrights on their trips to North Carolina. Funds for the monument were raised entirely by the citizens of Kitty Hawk, ensuring that it was a local tribute to the pioneering aviators.

Creators

Unknown 

Object ID

82.300.1623.7

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

Wright Brothers Memorial, Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, 1928-1929

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

The national attraction for discovering your ingenuity while exploring America’s spirit of innovation. There is always much to see and do at The Henry Ford.

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  Details

Wilbur Wright at Le Mans, France, with Ernest Zens, a Balloonist, circa 1908

  Details

Wilbur Wright at Le Mans, France, with Ernest Zens, a Balloonist, circa 1908

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Photographic print

Summary

After his impressive demonstration flights at Le Mans, France, in 1908, Wilbur Wright became one of the most celebrated men in Europe. Monarchs, politicians, and business leaders came to see him fly, as did fellow aviators. Wright took more than 40 passengers up into the sky with him during his French flights, including balloonist Ernest Zens.

Creators

Unknown 

Object ID

82.300.1623.12

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

Wilbur Wright at Le Mans, France, with Ernest Zens, a Balloonist, circa 1908

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

The national attraction for discovering your ingenuity while exploring America’s spirit of innovation. There is always much to see and do at The Henry Ford.

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  Details

Pamphlet, "Experiments and Observations in Soaring Flight," Wilbur Wright, 1903

  Details

Pamphlet, "Experiments and Observations in Soaring Flight," Wilbur Wright, 1903

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Book

Date Made

August 1903

Summary

Theories and research on aviation were shared widely through professional journals. While conducting their experiments, Wilbur and Orville Wright read almost everything they could find, and Wilbur contributed his own articles on the brothers' work. This August 1903 article, based on Wilbur's June 1903 presentation to the Western Society of Engineers, describes their successful glider flights of 1902.

Object ID

38.560.35

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Gift of Ernest L. Jones.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

Pamphlet, "Experiments and Observations in Soaring Flight," Wilbur Wright, 1903

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

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  Details

Book Used by the Wright Family, "Select Works of Thomas H. Huxley," 1886

  Details

Book Used by the Wright Family, "Select Works of Thomas H. Huxley," 1886

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Book

Date Made

1886

Summary

Bishop Milton Wright maintained an extensive library in his Dayton, Ohio, home. His books ranged from scientific works like Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, to poems by Virgil, to novels by Mark Twain. Wright's sons, Wilbur and Orville, used the bishop's books on physics and ornithology to start their research on the problem of human flight.

Object ID

38.792.80

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Gift of Orville Wright.

Greenfield Village
 On Exhibit

at Greenfield Village in Wright Home

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

Book Used by the Wright Family, "Select Works of Thomas H. Huxley," 1886

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  Details

Book Used by Wilbur Wright, "A Treatise on Physiology and Hygiene," 1881

  Details

Book Used by Wilbur Wright, "A Treatise on Physiology and Hygiene," 1881

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Book

Date Made

1881

Summary

Bishop Milton Wright maintained an extensive library in his Dayton, Ohio, home. His books ranged from scientific works like Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, to poems by Virgil, to novels by Mark Twain. Wright's sons, Wilbur and Orville, used the bishop's books on physics and ornithology to start their research on the problem of human flight.

Object ID

38.792.43

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Gift of Orville Wright.

Greenfield Village
 On Exhibit

at Greenfield Village in Wright Home

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

Book Used by Wilbur Wright, "A Treatise on Physiology and Hygiene," 1881

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

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  Details

Book Used by Milton Wright, "Fragments of Science for Unscientific People," 1871

  Details

Book Used by Milton Wright, "Fragments of Science for Unscientific People," 1871

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Book

Date Made

1871

Summary

Bishop Milton Wright maintained an extensive library in his Dayton, Ohio, home. His books ranged from scientific works like Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, to poems by Virgil, to novels by Mark Twain. Wright's sons, Wilbur and Orville, used the bishop's books on physics and ornithology to start their research on the problem of human flight.

Object ID

38.792.55

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Gift of Orville Wright.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

Book Used by Milton Wright, "Fragments of Science for Unscientific People," 1871

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

The national attraction for discovering your ingenuity while exploring America’s spirit of innovation. There is always much to see and do at The Henry Ford.

VIEW CALENDAR

  Details

Book Used by Wilbur Wright, "DeWolf's Instructive Speller"

  Details

Book Used by Wilbur Wright, "DeWolf's Instructive Speller"

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Book

Date Made

1862

Summary

Milton and Susan Wright encouraged an interest in learning in their children Reuchlin, Lorin, Wilbur, Orville, and Katharine -- though not necessarily in formal education. Katharine was the only Wright child to finish college, graduating from Oberlin in 1898. Neither Wilbur nor Orville finished high school, but they learned much from their father's extensive home library.

Object ID

38.792.181

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Gift of Orville Wright.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

Book Used by Wilbur Wright, "DeWolf's Instructive Speller"

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

The national attraction for discovering your ingenuity while exploring America’s spirit of innovation. There is always much to see and do at The Henry Ford.

VIEW CALENDAR

  Details