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ere are a few little known (but fascinating) facts about the Wright brothers:

 

Awards

The Wright brothers received major awards and honors on eight separate occasions.

  • Congressional Medal of Honor, awarded June 17, 1909. 
    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 January, 1909.
    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.
  • Albert Medal of the Royal Society of the Arts (in Great Britain), awarded October 27, 1917.
    Established in 1864, the Albert Medal acknowledges the creativity and innovation of those who work to solve the world's most intractable problems. Presented to Orville Wright and Wilbur Wright (posthumously) for being "the first persons to ascend from earth in a mechanically propelled aeroplane."
  • Daniel Guggenheim Medal, awarded April 8, 1930.
    Orville Wright and his (deceased) brother Wilbur were the first recipients of this award, established to recognize major contributions to the science of aeronautics.
  • Aviation Hall of Fame, enshrined December, 1962
    Wilbur and Orville Wright were among the first twelve aviators enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame at its first enshrinement ceremony in Dayton, Ohio, December, 1962..

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 Graham Bell.

The Albert Medal was presented at Hawthorn Hill by a delegation from England and headed by Lord Northcliffe.

Boats

Wilbur and Orville Wright owned several boats that we know of.

In late September of 1909, the Wright brothers were contracted to make exhibition flights at the Hudson-Fulton Celebration in New York City. They would use Governor's Island (just south of Manhattan) as an airfield, flying out over Upper Bay and the Hudson River. Wilbur, who would be the pilot, was worried that their aircraft would sink if it were forced down into the water. As a safety measure, he went into New York City and bought a bright red J.H. Rushton "Indian Girl" canoe from the Folsom Arms Company, an outfitters store. He took this back to Governors Island where he and Charlie Taylor stretched a canvas cover across the top, waxed the cloth to make it watertight, then attached the canoe to the bottom of the Flyer. If the airplane was forced to make a water landing, the canoe would act as a pontoon and keep the craft afloat. Wilbur made two exhibition flights: On September 29, how flew around the Statue of Liberty. On October 4, he flew to Grant's Tomb (in Harlem) and back. Afterwards, the canoe was shipped back to Dayton, Ohio where Orville kept it at the Dayton Canoe Club on the Great Miami River so it could be enjoyed by his nieces and nephews. At some point, it was painted green. Today it is on display at Carillon Park.

When Orville first visited Georgian Bay in Lake Huron in 1916, he learned to sail in an Aykroyd sailing dinghy (also called a "catboat"). Later, after he had purchased Lambert Island in the Georgian Bay, Orville bought one of these dinghies, kept it at his boathouse,  and sailed it during his yearly visits to the island. Visitors reported that in addition to the catboat, he also had a rowboat and a canoe.

Orville needed a more practical form of water transportation to travel large distances, such as the distance between the mainland and his island home. The Gidley Boat Co. of Penetanguishene, Ontario supplied him with several boats, the last of which – the "Kittyhawk" – still exists. It was built in 1930 as a water taxi, then returned to Gidley when the first owner could not make the payments. Orville bought it in 1931 and had a sedan top installed to protect his passengers from foul weather. It had a sleek mahogany hull, 32.5 feet (10 meters) long and 8 feet (2.4 meters) at the beam. Orville was never satisfied with the original Ford Model T engine and in 1941 – his last year at Lambert Island – he had Grew Manufacturing (which had bought Gidley) install a powerful eight-cylinder Kermath marine engine. Orville did not name the boat, but his neighbors on Georgian Bay presented him with a set of stainless steel capital letters that read "KITTY HAWK" one Christmas. Orville had the boat company install the letters but unfortunately the workers did not realize that Kitty Hawk,  where Orville and Wilbur had flown, was two words. The spelling mistake persists to this day.

Orville last used the Kittyhawk in 1941, and it was used for several years after his death in 1948 by Orville's nieces and nephews who had inherited the Lambert Island vacation home. It was purchased from the Wright estate in 1952 and used as a taxi and to ferry construction materials until the hull was damaged. It lay in a sling in its dock until 1972, when it was sold to and meticulously restored by Guy and Kathy Johnstone. It cruised Georgian Bay for many years and was kept in immaculate shape with additional restoration work in 1988 and 2006. The Johnstones are currently looking for someone to take over the stewardship of this unique piece of aviation and marine history – for more information. about the sale of the Kittyhawk, click HERE.
 


Wilbur flies past the New York City skyline with an Indian Girl canoe lashed beneath his Wright Model A Flyer.

The restored Kittyhawk, Orville's 1931 runabout he used to get back and forth from Lambert Island in Georgian Bay of Lake Huron. For more information on the boat and Orville's time in Canada, click HERE.

The Kittyhawk tied up at a dock. Note the stainless steel lettering on the bow.
Note: Guy and Kathy Johnstone, who have cared for the Kittyhawk since 1972, are currently looking to sell the boat. (For more information about the sale, click HERE.) We sincerely hope the Johnstones will  find someone who can appreciate, preserve, and promote its unique history as well as they have.

Boy Scouts

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.

Crashes

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 November 1904.
  • While flying the 1905 Wright Flyer III at Huffman Prairie on 14 July 1905.
  • 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.

Orville also survived a nasty train wreck while in France. On 16 January1909 he and Katharine were on their way to join Wilbur in Pau when their express passenger train collided with a slower local train 30 miles (48 kilometers) from their destination. Orville and Katharine were unhurt, but two people died in the crash.

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 unhurt. He also crashed in public on August 13, 1908, at the Hunaudiéres Race Course near Le Mans, France, breaking the left wing of his Wright Model A. Again, he was unhurt.
 


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.

Education

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 year.

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, 1915.
  • 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 school.

Orville receives and honorary doctorate degree in Engineering for the University of Dayton in 1943.

Huffman Prairie

Huffman Prairie, where the Wrights developed their experimental powered aircraft into a practical flying machine, was first surveyed in 1802 and recorded as a "sedge meadow." Poor drainage and wet, alkali soil had kept trees from growing, resulting in a prairie. This prairie 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 marshy land.  By an amazing coincidence, Riddell was also one of the earliest science fiction writers and wrote about "aerial navigation."

When the Wrights asked to use a portion of the prairie as a flying field in 1904, the area was still wet and (mostly) treeless. It was also covered with hummocks, possibly formed by a type of sedge grass common in Ohio fens and bogs. But the peat-like soil was also much softer than the surrounding fields of unyielding clay. Furthermore, when the ground froze in the winter the expanding ice created "frost heaves" in the peat, making the surface soft and springy. Walking over it felt akin to walking on a lumpy mattress. The Wrights may have chosen it partly for 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 the Interurban 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 west Dayton.

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 Field.

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.

In 1986, a 109-acre tract just east of the Wright brother's original flying field  was designated a State Natural Landmark by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, owing to the fact that it was an intact remnant of Ohio's ancient prairies. This became the Huffman Prairie Conservation Area .A few years later Wright-Patterson AFB began to restore this area, hoping to create a botanical environment as close as possible to the sedge meadow that John Riddell had once studied. Over the years, the Ohio chapter of The Nature Conservancy and Five Rivers Metroparks (the Dayton-area park system) also became involved. The conservation effort waned briefly in 2002, but it was renewed again in 2008 when the Base committed to eradicating invasive plant species in a 3-acre tract and reseeding it with prairie flora. The results were not immediate – botanists have found it can take 5 years or more for a reseeding program to take effect –  but the tract steadily improved. In 2012, the Base began to reseed roughly half the Prairie Conservation Area and it too is improving.

In 1990 the 84-acre tract that was the original flying field was declared a National Historic Landmark. On 17 December 2002 – the 99th anniversary of the Wrights' first powered flights – that land was incorporated into the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historic Park. It remains part of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, but it is open to the public except in times of high military alert or inclement weather. The flying field is accessible through Gate 16A off Route 444.
 


The hummocks at Huffman Prairie were probably due to hummock sedge (carex stricta), a common plant in Ohio wetlands.

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 tested here.

Wright Field in 1930.

Huffman Prairie Flying Field in 2013 still looks much like it did in 1904. Botanists, however, will tell you the Prairie now hosts many invasive species of flora that have crowded out the original prairie sedge.

The Huffman Prairie Flying Field and State Natural Landmark rest side by side in Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Area C. There are no plans to restore the Flying Field botanically as is being done in the Natural Landmark, but one can hope. If you would like to know more about the conservation efforts at Huffman Prairie, click HERE.

Newspaper Coverage

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.

Names and Nicknames

None of the Wright children had middle names. Instead, their father tried to give them distinctive first names. Wilbur was named for Wilbur Fiske and Orville for for Orville Dewey, both clergyman that Milton Wright admired. They were "Will" and "Orv" to their friends, and their neighbors knew them collectively as the "Bishop's kids." 

Within the Wright family, Wilbur was often referred to a "Ullam" and Orville was "Bubs" or "Bubbo." 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. "Bubbo" was as close as the 4-year-old Wilbur could come to pronouncing the word "brother" when Orville was born in 1871. Their sister Katharine went by the nickname "Swes," an affectionate German diminutive for swesterchens, meaning "little sister."
 

 

Pets

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.
 

Travel Plans

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.
 

Vacation Home

In 1916, Orville took his sister and father on their first family vacation ever. At the suggestion of Orville's friend and former botany professor, William Werthener, the Wrights stayed at a cottage on Georgian Bay in Lake Huron. 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 derelict buildings.

In 1918, Orville made extensive renovations to the primitive buildings on Lambert, creating a main cottage he named the Cliff House, a guest house, pump house, ice house, boathouse, a water tower and a unique funicular railroad used to carry guests and supplies to the top of the 60-foot (18-meter) cliff. Cliff House was secured by steel cables to the stony landscape to help the structure withstand the autumn storms where winds could exceed 100 miles (161 kilometers) per hour. Even so, the cottage eventually had to be relocated to a more sheltered area when the winds caused some shifting.

Orville and his sister Katharine spent two months of every year on Lambert Island, enjoying the wildness. Because there was so much to do on the island maintaining and improving the buildings,  they also brought along a succession of helpers – young men hired to do the heavy work.. They continued make this annual trip together until 1926, when Katharine married Henry Haskell and Orville became estranged from her. Thereafter, Orville continued to visit Lambert, often accompanied by one or more of his nephews and nieces (and later grandnephews and grandnieces). He was also visited by many friends while at Lambert. In 1941, as the Second World War approached, the US government – because Orville was an advisor to the US military – sent representatives to Orville’s cottage to escort him back to the United States. His health declined after the war and he never returned to Lambert Island.

Guy Johnstone, who presently owns Orville's boat the Kittyhawk, has written a book about the Lambert Island getaway and Orville Wright's time at Georgian Bay entitled "From Kitty Hawk to Kittyhawk." There is also a display and a collection of Orville's Lambert Island photos at the Huronia Museum in Midland, Ontariio, Canada.

If you would like to visit Lambert Island in Google Earth, click HERE.
 


A view of Lambert Island from the air.

View Lambert Island in a larger map.

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