Octave Chanute to Wilbur Wright

Chicago, April 9, 1904

I duly received yours of March 29th. It seems to have been crossed by mine of 30th and I have been waiting for an answer to that before having, the article on Herring in the March 11. Aer. Mitt. translated. From the tenor of your letter I inferred that you have the February issue of the same paper, which gave Herring a 7 page notice. I now enclose a clipping from the Boston Journal concerning the same "amoosing cuss."

I am indignant at the forgery perpetrated by the man Willey, and I am willing to spend some money in punishing him if the laws of Maryland permit. I send you his letters to me and copies of my answers.1 I suggest that you consult a lawyer and advise me of what can, be done.

I thank you for the offer to forward the multiple winged and the oscillating wing machines to St. Louis, but I think that under the circumstances we had better give that up. Moreover, these are your machines and I only meant to borrow them when gliding machines were still the best that had been produced.

1 Willey had written Chanute on December 19, 1903, asking for photographs of the recent trials at Kitty Hawk for use in a proposed article which would give the Wrights "due credit" for their success. Reference was also made to photographs of the 1901 gliding experiments which Chanute had supplied in 1902 and which Willey claimed to have returned.

On December 23, Chanute told Willey: . . I have no photographs of the Wright machine of 1903, and it is my impression that the inventors will not want them published until they have some patents. I send you however the report of the talk which Mr. Wright gave us June 24. The former photos I sent you were not returned. . . . Kindly advise me in what publication and date your article appeared last year. I do not remember seeing it."

In a reply dated December 30, 1904, Willey admitted that the photographs furnished by Chanute had not been returned and offered to send them back on demand. All Willey now wanted was a few snapshots of the 1902 experiments at Kitty Hawk, on loan. Chanute responded on January 1, 1904: "1 . . . enclose three of my photos of the Wright gliding machine of 1902. The 1903 machine is a different one, and the Wrights have determined to give no pictures, descriptions I or statements of methods at present. The performance is quite different from the newspaper accounts, which are grossly exaggerated. Only a commencement has been made, but it is promising.

"You do not say where I will find the article you prepared with the information formerly sent you."

Chanute did not send Wilbur copies of his subsequent exchanges with Willey, but they explain in part Chanute's indignation when Willey's hoax became known to him. On January 14, 1904, Willey at last acknowledged receipt of the set of 1902 photos. He added that his earlier article, about which Chanute had inquired, had been published, he thought, in the Wide World Magazine of London and a copy sent to Chanute but that it might have strayed in the mails. No article by Willey appears in any issue of that magazine between 1902 and 1904, and it remains conjectural whether such an article was published at all. The question was never reopened by Chanute.

On February 11, 1904, Willey again addressed Chanute, requesting conformation of the fact of Chanute's presence at Kitty Hawk when the photographs sent on January I (and used in the Independent article of February 4) were taken. The reason for the request, Willey claimed, was that a statement made in Wilbur's lecture to the Western Society of Engineers (not specified whether in that of September 18, 1901, or June 24, 1903) had been questioned, and Willey wished to answer the criticism.

On February 15, 1904, Chanute replied: ". . . I am somewhat puzzled . . . as you do not say what statements in the reports to the Western Society of Engineers are questioned. I believe that they are all true.

"I visited the Wright camp in North Carolina, in 1901, 1902, and 1903, remaining a week or ten days each time and taking photographs.

"You will find an article by Mr. Wilbur Wright in the Independent of Feb. 4th and one by myself in the Popular Science Monthly of March or April,"

Until Wilbur's letter of March 29, Chanute was unaware of the irony of his last paragraph and of Willey's motive in seeking assurances from him.

Wilbur Wright to Octave Chanute, April 10, 1904