Restoring the
Wright brothers photographs

Source of the Damage

The Wright brothers had their glass negatives stored in a shed outside their house in Dayton. Dayton was hit by a flood in 1913, which reached the Wright property, inundating their shed. Many of the negatives suffered damage in the flood: edges were broken off, the water stained various areas, and the delicate emulsion peeled off the glass plate. The remarkable thing is that they were not all destroyed at that time.

The glass negatives were later bequeathed by Orville Wright to the Library of Congress, which preserves the negatives as a part of our cultural heritage.

With current digital technology, it is possible to restore the Wright negatives to a close approximation of their pre-flood state. Given the priceless nature of these images of humankind learning to fly, you might believe that the Library of Congress would be willing to undertake such a reconstruction. You would be wrong. According to Dr. James Billington, the Librarian of Congress, "Our mission is preserve the artifacts in our collection, not to restore them." That works well for the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, which came in undamaged and will last for several hundred more years given their current care and treatment. But we have lost some of the most beautiful images of the Wright brothers, and holding on to the damaged negatives won't bring them back.

The Restoration Project

For the past year or so, I've been working on a project to restore all 303 images for the Library of Congress. The idea is to obtain the best possible copies of these images, have a service bureau run them through a drum scanner, have a professional retoucher restore the images, and donate them back to the Library of Congress. A side effect of the project will be to preserve the images in a digital form, which can be copied exactly and stored indefinitely without further degradation.

I have obtained full cooperation of the Prints and Photographs division for this effort, and they have agreed to add my restored images into their collection (contrary to normal policy). Now all it takes is about $250,000 to get the work done.

What can I do to help?

Various governmental agencies are unable to help in this project, for a variety of legal and financial reasons. Private corporations have also expressed great interest in the project, but have not been able to provide support. Therefore, I will be happy to accept private tax-deductible contributions in support of this effort. Checks can be made out to THE UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS and sent to:

	Gary Bradshaw
	The Beckman Institute
	405 N. Mathews Avenue
	Urbana, Illinois

Sponsor a restoration!

Full sponsorship of one picture costs $1000. For this contribution, you will receive a 30 x 40 print of your picture, as well as full acknowledgement at the Library of Congress and any museum exhibitions of these restored prints. A contribution of $30 will purchase a negative from the Library of Congress, which will allow me to replace the low-quality fiche scan with a much-better quality image from a Library of Congres negative. In fact, I'd welcome a dollar bill stuffed in an envelope. I'd put it towards my first Wright movie, which costs about $400.

List of current sponsors

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