The diaries and notebooks of Wilbur and Orville Wright, among other items from the Library's collection of primary-source materials relating to flight, document the dreams that led to man's first machine-driven flight 100 years ago, on Dec. 17, 1903.
The "Top Treasures" case in the permanent American Treasures gallery in the Thomas Jefferson Building, will feature 85 items in a special display, "The Dream of Flight," through Apr. 24.
Dedicated to the Wright Brothers and their historic achievement a century ago, "The Dream of Flight" displays selections from diaries and notebooks as well as letters and photographs that sketch the story of how two bicycle mechanics from Ohio achieved an understanding of aerodynamics and used their technical genius to invent what would become a worldwide industry.
The display is part of the Library's participation with the U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission (established by Congress in 1998) to commemorate the centennial of powered flight. The Librarian of Congress is a statutory member of the commission's First Flight Centennial Advisory Board.
Drawing heavily on the Library's premier collection of the Wilbur
and Orville Wright papers, the display also takes advantage of the
breadth and depth of other Library collections, especially its holdings
of aeronautica, including rare prints, photographs, manuscripts and
rare books showing that the desire to fly is a nearly universal human
aspiration. These objects, some of the Library's rarest and most historically
significant, have been chosen to trace ideas about human flight from
classical times to the start of the 20th century.
Some highlights of the display are:
- a multipage, signed letter from Benjamin Franklin to Sir Joseph Banks, President of the Royal Society of London, in which Franklin offers his on-the-spot account of the first manned balloon flight in Paris on Nov. 21, 1783;
- a swatch of fabric from the first fatal balloon ascent in 1785;
- a hand-written account by the designer and pilot of the first hydrogen balloon flight (1783);
- a May 13, 1900, letter from Wilbur Wright to aeronautical authority, Octave Chanute, in which Wright first describes his obsession with the problem of flight and offers his plans to solve it;
- a telegram from Orville Wright to his father announcing their success at Kitty Hawk;
- the diary of Orville Wright in which he describes in detail the four powered flights on Dec. 17, 1903;
- a large piece of fabric from the original 1903 machine;
- several photographs, including one of the first flight printed by the Wrights themselves in 1904;
- film footage of Wilbur Wright performing demonstration flights in Europe in 1909.
The display will remain on view in the central "Top Treasures" case of the "American Treasures" exhibition, Southwest Gallery of the Thomas Jefferson Building, through April 24, 2004. This case displays the Library's rarest materials on a rotating basis.
An online version of the exhibition is available on the Library's Web site at www.loc.gov/exhibits. A companion online presentation featuring 10,000 items selected from the Wilbur and Orville Wright papers is available on the Library's American Memory Web site at memory.loc.gov/ammem/wrighthtml.