August 29, 2003 Library of Congress Display Marks the Centennial of Flight

Press Contact: Helen Dalrymple (202) 707-1940; Audrey Fischer (202) 707-0022
Contact: View the exhibition online.
Website: Wilbur and Orville Wright Papers in American Memory

Wilbur and Orville Wright made the world’s first powered, sustained, and controlled flight in their heavier-than-air flying machine on Dec. 17, 1903, thereby achieving one of mankind’s oldest and most persistent dreams. Beginning Oct. 3, the Library of Congress will feature in its permanent American Treasures gallery a special presentation, “The Dream of Flight,” which is dedicated to the Wright Brothers and their historic achievement a century ago.

Selected items from this assemblage of 85 items will be featured in the “Top Treasures” exhibit case, which displays the Library’s rare and unique materials on a rotating basis.

This special presentation, which draws heavily on the Library’s premier collection of the Wilbur and Orville Wright papers, has been planned as 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. Librarian of Congress James H. Billington is a statutory member of the Commission’s First Flight Centennial Advisory Board.

“The Dream of Flight” will display selections from the diaries of Wilbur and Orville Wright, as well as their notebooks, letters and photographs to sketch the compelling story of how two motivated bicycle mechanics from Ohio achieved a scientific understanding of aerodynamics, used their technical genius to invent what would become a worldwide industry and in the process became international celebrities.

The display also takes advantage of the breadth and depth of other Library of Congress 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 of the highlights among the approximately 85 items on display are:

  • A multi-page, 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 by Wilbur Wright to aeronautical authority, Octave Chanute, in which he first describes his obsession with the problem of flight and offers his plans to solve it;
  • The 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 section of the “American Treasures” exhibition, Southwest Gallery of the Thomas Jefferson Building, through April 24, 2004. Hours for the exhibition are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Saturday. To arrange tours for school groups, call (202) 707-9203. An online version of the exhibition will be available on the Library’s Web site at A companion online presentation featuring 10,000 items selected from the Wilbur and Orville Wright papers will be available on the Library’s American Memory Web site at

Special note: The “American Treasures” exhibition will be closed from Sept. 19 to Sept. 24 for the installation of this special display.


PR 03-146
ISSN 0731-3527