Lot 83: Wright, Orville. Highly important typed letter signed ("Wilbur and Orville Wright per O. Wright").
July 11, 2014
Calabasas, CA, USALive Auction
83. Wright, Orville. Highly important typed letter signed (“Wilbur and Orville Wright per O. Wright”) (Orville signs for both brothers), 2 pages (11 x 8.5 in.; 279 x 216 mm.), Dayton, Ohio, 17 November 1905, to Carl Dienstbach, a New York City musician and the U.S. correspondent for the German journal “Illustrierte Aeronautische Mitteilungen,” on “Wright Cycle Company, 1127 West Third Street, Dayton, Ohio” letterhead stationery, with Orville’s handwritten postscript added at the end of the letter.
Orville Wright writes in full: Dear Mr. Diensbach:- A good deal of doubt seems to exist in Europe as to whether there is any truth in the reports that have been made concerning our flights of 1903 and 1904; and it is not at all surprising, under the circumstances, since there has never been any account of any one having seen them, except the inventors themselves. There have been a number of witnesses to every flight we have made in the last three years. The flights near Kitty Hawk were seen by nearly all the men at the U.S. Kill Devil Life Saving Station, who were present, and by the Captain of the Kitty Hawk Station, who viewed the flights through a glass. The flights in 1904 were witnessed by the farmers on the surrounding farms, besides a number of citizens of Dayton, whom we had invited. Mr. A. I Root, of Medina, Ohio, was also present a number of times, and wrote an account of what he saw for his journal, ‘Gleanings in Bee Culture’, for January 1st, 1905.
The longer flights this year were witnessed by a number of citizens of Dayton, among whom were Mr. Torrence Huffman, President Fourth National Bank; Mr. C. S. Billman, Secretary West Side Building & Loan Company; and Mr. Edgar W. Ellis, Assistant Auditor of City of Dayton. If you or the Editor of your journal wish to make a personal investigation of the matter, we have no doubt any of these gentlemen would take pleasure corroborating the fact that they were present when flights of fifteen to twenty-four miles were made. We would not want their names published, as they would no doubt be flooded with inquiries. None of these gentlemen have any financial interest in our machine, either directly or indirectly. Respectfully yours, Wilbur and Orville Wright per O. Wright
We are sending you under separate cover copy of Gleaning of June 1st 1905 (postscript entirely in Orville Wright’s hand).
The first reports of the Wright brothers’ historic 17 December 1903 flight were grossly distorted in the European press, where pioneer aviators had been frantically trying to catch up with the Wrights’ accomplishments. In 1903, the Wright Brothers had made the first sustained powered flights. In 1904, a new aeroplane enabled them to accomplish turns and closed circuits. Then, in 1905, they exceeded the flying time of half an hour. The Wright brothers were at the forefront of aviation.
On Tuesday, 3 October 1905, Orville flew 15 miles around and around the field at Huffman Prairie, landing after 25 minutes. The next day, he flew for 33 minutes. Then, on the afternoon of 5 October 1905, Wilbur Wright took the controls and made a sensational record-breaking 24 1/5 mile, 38-minute flight at an average speed of 38 miles per hour. At first, witnesses to the flights at Huffman Prairie included only a few friends, Bishop Milton Wright, Lorin Wright and his family, and banker Torrence Huffman. Until the 3rd flight, the trials were held in absolute secrecy, attended only by invited guests (a few influential civil leaders and local merchants and businessmen). Each day after that, more witnesses appeared; Wilbur’s record-breaking flight was witnessed by at least fifteen individuals. Wilbur was able to identify only three of them by name. After a news item appeared in the Dayton Daily News on 5 October, there were so many men and women lining the fences at Huffman Prairie that flights had to be discontinued until the excitement died down.
The press had been kept in ignorance of the experiments at Huffman Prairie to avoid the extreme distortions of fact that followed the flights at Kill Devil Hills in 1903. After Wilbur’s record flight of 38 minutes, they decided to send out accounts of what they had accomplished in 1905. Three journalists were chosen to receive the Wright brothers’ announcement in the form of a letter sent on 17 November 1905: Georges Besanton, Editor of the French monthly “L’Aérophile”; Carl Dienstbach, New York representative of the German journal “Illustrierte Aeronautische Mitteilungen”; and Patrick Alexander, a member of the Aeronautical Society of Great Britain.
The present letter is the actual letter the brothers sent to Dienstbach. It was printed in the February 1906 issue of Dienstbach’s German journal , with observations by the editor which questioned the credibility of the Wrights’ letter and informed readers that the Wright brothers had referred to Kaiser Wilhelm as a disturber of the peace in Europe. The attack came as a result of the publication in the French journal “L’Aérophile” (December, 1905) of two letters written by the Wrights to Captain Ferdinand Ferber. In one, a reference to Kaiser Wilhelm had been translated into French in such a way that it could be construed as an insult. As a result of the damning article in Dienstbach’s publication, the Wright brothers’ claims were widely disbelieved in Germany. In contrast, the claims were just as widely believed in England, where their letter had been read to the Aeronautical Society at the Society’s 15 December meeting in London. In France, where their letter was published in advance in the 30 November issue of “L’Auto,” a daily for sports fans published in Paris, the reaction was one of utter disbelief. The French had found it hard to believe that Wright had made four flights of less than a minute in 1903. Now, they found it even harder to believe that they were now making flights of more than half an hour in 1905.
Provenance: Christie’s, New York, 5 December 1991, lot140.
$15,000 - $25,000