Wilbur Wright to Octave Chanute

Dayton, January 8, 1904

Your letter of 1st inst. has been received. We have a letter from Capt. Ferber written Dec. 21st congratulating us on our flights. It would seem that the fake story sent out from Norfolk has been in part cabled abroad.2 A few days ago we gave to the press a correction, of which I send you a copy herewith. Nothing more will be given out, as we prefer to keep the story to ourselves till we are ready to make a full statement later in the year.

A copy is also enclosed of a letter received a few days ago from Mr. Herring. This time he surprised us. Before he left camp in 1902 we foresaw and predicted the object of his visit to Washington, we also felt certain that he was making a frenzied attempt to mount a motor on a copy of our 1902 glider and thus anticipate us, even before you told us of it last fall. But that he would have the effrontery to write us such a letter, after his other schemes of rascality had failed, was really a little more than we expected. We shall make no answer at all.3 Notwithstanding various stories regarding our intentions & movements which have appeared in newspapers, we shall be in Dayton most of the time till spring.4

1 Chanute notes that this letter was not postmarked until 8:30 A.M., Jan. 11, 1904.

2 The Norfolk story had not only been cabled abroad; it had been "improved" upon, and embellished with Chanute's reply to Drzewiecki's cable, in a hopeless account published in L'Aerophile, Dec. 1903, p. 282, under the heading, "Aviation in America" (incidentally the title of Chanute's Revue des Sciences article of November). The following translation of the Aerophile write up, with its reiteration of the Ferber Archdeacon challenge (see below Appendix IV, B, "Mr. Chanute in Paris," by Ernest Archdeacon), is of interest:

"According to the foreign daily press, the brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright, whose trials in gliding flight we described in our April and August 1903 numbers [see Appendix IV, Cl, have on December 18 [sic], at Kitty Hawk, successfully tested an aeroplane equipped with propellers driven by a tricycle motor. Wilbur Wright by this means covered 5 kilometers.

"The place chosen was a hill known as Kill Devil Hill (le Tue Diable); it is about 30 meters high and is located in the dunes on the Atlantic coast. The aeroplane was carried to the summit, and Mr. Wright took his place on it lying at full length. There was no special arrangement for launching. Mr. Orville Wright pushed the machine, and, the motor turning at its maximum, the machine rose to a height of 20 meters (?). The experimenter was able to maintain directional control at will and keep up a speed of 12 kilometers an hour. At the end of 5 kilometers, he came down without difficulty.

"Mr. Chanute, interviewed by telegraph on the veracity of this news, replied to Mr. Drzewiecki: 'Newspaper accounts considerably exaggerated, await details by letter.'

"We shall wait before commenting, but may we recall to French aviators the cry of alarm uttered by Mr. Ernest Archdeacon: 'Will the homeland of the Montgolfiers have the shame of allowing that ultimate discovery of aerial science to be realized abroad?' and this recommendation Of Captain Ferber: 'The aeroplane must not be allowed to be perfected in America.'

"There is still time, but let us not lose a minute."

3 In his audacious letter, written from Freeport, Long Island, Dec. 26, 1903, Herring claimed to have reached an independent solution of the problem of power flight and suggested a partnership between himself and the Wrights, they to have a two thirds interest, he one third. Herring also asserted that he was the true originator of Chanute's two surface glider, and represented that he had been offered a substantial sum for his "rights" to interference suits against the Wrights.

4 Chanute's request, in his letter to Wilbur Wright, Jan. 1, 1904, to be kept informed of the brothers' movements may be explained by the following passage from a letter of Chanute's to Patrick Y. Alexander, Jan. 18, 1904: "1 was very sorry not to find you in Washington . . . [where] I found a telegram inviting you to the camp . . . I got to the camp on the 6th [November] . . . Finally, on the 17th of December (I could not stay so long), the first dynamic flight in history took place. . . . The Wrights are immensely elated. They have grown very secretive, and nobody is to be allowed to see the machine at present, so you have lost your chance. They talked when I was in camp of bringing the machine home and working it on a lake about 15 miles wide as soon as it froze over, but I do not know whether this will be done as I have not seen them and letters are now very scarce. . . ."

The lake in question was probably Lake St. Marys (Grand Reservoir), in Mercer and Auglaize Counties, Ohio, some fifty miles from Dayton, near the town of St. Marys. Bishop Milton Wright was familiar with this rather wild country, as one of his church conferences met in the vicinity. The frozen lake may have occurred to the Wrights as a secluded place they could have resorted to if weather had driven them out of Kitty Hawk before Christmas and before achieving a successful flight. The events of December 17 made such an expedient unnecessary.

Octave Chanute to Wilbur Wright, January 14, 1904