Letter to Mabel

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In 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 and 1905.

June 26, 1906

Beinn Bhreagh,
Victoria County,
Cape Breton, N.S.

Dear Mabel,

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.

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The Wright Story/Showing the World/Alexander Graham Bell to his wife Mabel Hubbard Bell

Part of a biography of the Wright Brothers


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