Orville Wright letter to be auctioned off

One of aviation’s greatest storylines comes to life during Swann Auction Galleries’ Autographs Sale on May 23.

On Nov. 10, 1921, Orville Wright sent a typed, signed letter to the publisher of Aviation and Aeronautical Engineering, in response to the controversy surrounding the Langley vs. Wright flight.

In October 1921, Griffith Brewer, a member of the Royal Aero Club and friend to the Wright Brothers, gave a lecture to the Royal Society (later published as “Aviation’s Greatest Controversy”). In this speech he described differences between Samuel Langley’s 1903 flying machine, which failed to fly a short time before the Wright Flyer succeeded, and the reconstructions of this machine, which that Glenn Curtiss later flew successfully at Hammondsport.

Charles D. Walcott, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, believed that the successful Langley machine was not different from the earlier machine, concluding that the Langley machine was the first successfully flown mechanically powered heavier-than-air craft – not the Wright Flyer.

In response to statements made by Griffith Brewer and Glenn Curtiss in the Aeronautical Journal, Wright stated that Brewer had been misled by Charles D. Walcott regarding the cost, payment, and transportation of the Langley machine to Hammondsport.

In his letter to Aviation and Aeronautical Engineering, Wright wrote: “. . . I cannot help but admire Curtiss’ nerve. Only one with colossal nerve would dare to come out with the flat statement such as Curtiss makes, that the machine he flew at Hammondsport was the original Langley machine without any change except the addition of floats. . . .”

Auction officials estimate the letter will go for between $4,000 and $6,000.

Also included in the auction is a signed portrait of aviator and aerospace engineer Howard Hughes, from the pressbook for his 1930 film Hell’s Angels (estimate: $1,000-$2,000).

The lot also features a ticket to the film’s premiere, held at the Criterion Theater in New York City (now the location of the Toys“R”Us store in Times Square).

For more information: SwannGalleries.com


  1. Greg W says

    Since the argument is on what about Gustave Whithead? Seriously though, the Wright brothers quantified the means of powered, sustained and controlled flight. It was this achievement that allowed their flights to be repeated and the airplane to be rapidly developed. Langely did not develop a practical control system and because it failed to fly the excellent Manly-Balzer engine was forgotten, not to be equaled until WW1.

  2. Richard Baker says

    The Langley aircraft is at the Udvar-Hazy portion of the Air and Space Museum. It looks little like the aircraft that failed. Mr. Wright was correct about “nerve”.

  3. Roger Lambert says

    This is only part of the shameful episode in which Walcott , the Smithsonian and Curtiss fabricated evidence trying to invalidate the Wright’s patent on the airplane, and failed. It also evidences part of the reasons why the Wright Flyer was displayed in the British Museum until 1948, and the Wright papers didn’t go into the Library of Congress until the Smithsonian capitulated on the Wright’s claim to powered flight.

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