On Dec. 17, 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright made the first powered, sustained and controlled flight in a heavier-than-air flying machine. To commemorate this event, a new online presentation from the Library of Congress' premier collection of Wright brothers' papers will be available online in the American Memory collections at memory.loc.gov/ammem/wrighthtml.
This special electronic educational collection is offered in connection with "The Dream of Flight," a special exhibition in the Library's permanent American Treasures gallery that commemorates the centennial of flight. Items such as Orville's telegram to his father announcing the successful flight at Kitty Hawk will appear online as well as in the "Top Treasures" case in the exhibition, which displays the Library's rare and unique materials on a rotating basis.
Nearly one-third of the Wilbur and Orville Wright Papers at the Library of Congress—totaling 30,000 items—are now accessible online. The papers, which document the lives of the Wrights and highlight their pioneering work, span the years 1881 to 1952, but cover primarily the years from 1900 to 1940.
The 10,000 items selected for inclusion online are among the most significant and interesting materials in the collection. These include the Wrights' diaries and notebooks, which record many of their glides and powered flights at Kitty Hawk and elsewhere, as well as their scientific experiments and data. Charts, drawings, scrapbooks, printed matter and other materials covering the Wrights' research, work and business pursuits are also included.
Because Wilbur and Orville corresponded extensively with their family, especially their father, Bishop Milton Wright, and their sister, Katharine, the Wright family correspondence will also be accessible online, along with letters from many correspondents in the field of aeronautics such as Octave Chanute, Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart. The Wrights' letters to Chanute—a civil engineer and aviation pioneer, as well as the brothers' mentor and friend— provide a first-person account of their problems and progress in inventing their airplane. These letters are part of the Octave Chanute Papers at the Library of Congress.
Among the Wright materials acquired by the Library of Congress and presented online are images from 303 glass-plate negatives, most taken by the Wright brothers themselves between 1896 and 1911 to document successes and failures with their new flying machines. These photographs provide an excellent pictorial record of the brothers' laboratory, engines, kites, gliders, powered machines, flights and even their accidents. They also contain individual portraits and group pictures of the Wright brothers and their family and friends, as well as photos of their homes, other buildings, towns and landscapes.
The Wilbur and Orville Wright Papers and the Octave Chanute Papers are housed in the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress. The glass plate negatives are in the Prints and Photographs Division of the Library.