It Wasn’t Newsworthy

Story of the Day for Wednesday February 8, 2012

It Wasn’t Newsworthy

                      Don’t seek your own glory, challenging and envying each other. 

                                                                 Galatians 5:26

Samuel Langley was passionate about building the first manned, motorized flying machine. He was given financial backing from the U.S. government, with another institution kicking in a substantial (for those days) $20,000.

Langley was an ingenious inventor and his solid financial backing enabled him to hire some of the brightest minds of his day.

His airplane, called the Aerodrome, couldn’t be steered and had no landing wheels. The plane, perched atop a houseboat on the Potomac River, would be launched with a catapult.

On December 9, 1903, the press crowded the shore to witness the first piloted flight. The catapult was to whip the plane from a dead stop to 60 m.p.h. in a mere 70 feet. Unfortunately, the plane was unable to withstand the force of the catapult and the tail and a wing collapsed — swatting the plane over the side of the boat and into the Potomac.


Eight days after this humiliating debacle, two brothers took their invention to the sandy Kill Devil Hills of North Carolina. Neither Orville or Wilbur Wright had a high school diploma. They worked out of their bike shop in Dayton, Ohio. Their only assistant was Charlie Taylor, the shop mechanic. Their budget was under a thousand dollars. But on December 17th, 1903, Orville piloted the first motorized flight.

When Orville and Wilbur telegraphed the news to their hometown paper, the newspaper refused to print the story — claiming it wasn’t newsworthy. In fact, the Wright brothers’ amazing feat was ignored by everyone. The first person to understand the significance of their accomplishment and report it was Amos Root, who wrote about it in his journal on beekeeping: Gleanings in Bee Culture.


When the rest of the world finally realized what the Wright brothers had accomplished, the Smithsonian Institution remained adamant in refusing to acknowledge the Wright brothers’ feat. Instead, they exhibited Langley’s Aerodrome in its museum, claiming it as the first aircraft “capable” of manned powered flight.

Orville Wright repeatedly presented his claims to the Smithsonian, but they ignored him. In disgust, Wright shipped his airplane to the London Science Museum.

After a generation of wrangling, the Smithsonian finally acknowledged the Wright brothers as the first to achieve a manned, powered flight. The famous airplane was returned from London and, forty-five years after the historic flight, was displayed in the Smithsonian.


Why did the Smithsonian fight so hard to name Samuel Langley as the inventor of the first airplane?  Perhaps you would want to know that the institution that generously gave $20,000 to Langley to build his airplane was the Smithsonian. And you may be further interested to know that the director of the Smithsonian at that time was none other than Samuel Langley. And, though Langley made no claims of achieving the first successful flight, his successor at the Smithsonian, Charles Walcott, was Langley’s close friend.

(copyright by and by Marty Kaarre)