Octave Chanute to Wilbur Wright

Chicago, January 23, 1910

Being misdirected, your letter of 20th was somewhat late in reaching me. I return the envelope1

The clipping which you enclose (returned herewith) is the first which I have seen from the New York World, referring to myself. I shall be glad to see the others.

This interview, which was entirely unsought by me, is about as accurate as such things usually are.2 Instead of discussing it I prefer to take up the main principles at issue.

I did tell you in 1901 that the mechanism by which your surfaces were warped was original with yourselves. This I adhere to, but it does not follow that it covers the general principle of warping or twisting wings, the proposals for doing this being ancient. You know, of course, what Pettigrew and Marey said about it. Please see my book, page 97, for what d'Esterno said of the laws of flight; the 3d being torsion of the wings and the 6th being torsion of the tail. Also, page 106, Le Bris, rotary motion of the front edge of the wings. The original sources of information are indicated in footnotes. I did not explain the mechanism because I had not the data.

When I gave you a copy of the Mouillard patent in 1901, think I called your attention to his method of twisting the rear of the wings. If the courts will decide that the purpose and results were entirely different and that you were the first to conceive the twisting of the wings, so much the better for you, but my judgment is that you will be restricted to the particular method by which you do it. Therefore it was that I told you in New York that you were making a mistake by abstaining from prize winning contests while public curiosity is yet so keen, and by bringing suits to prevent others from doing so. This is still my opinion and I am afraid, my friend, that your usually sound judgment has been warped by the desire for great wealth.

If, as I infer from your letter, my opinions form a grievance in your mind, I am sorry, but this brings me to say that I also have a little grievance against you.

In your speech at the Boston dinner, January 12th, you began by saying that I "turned up" at your shop in Dayton in 1901 and that you then invited me to your camp. This conveyed the impression that I thrust myself upon you at that time and it omitted to state that you were the first to write to me, in 1900, asking for information which was gladly furnished, that many letters passed between us, and that both in 1900 and 1901 you had written me to invite me to visit you, before I "turned up" in 1901. This, coming subsequently to some somewhat disparaging remarks concerning the helpfulness I may have been to you, attributed to you by a number of French papers, which I, of course, disregarded as newspaper talk, has grated upon me ever since that dinner, and I hope, that, in future, you will not give out the impression that I was the first to seek your acquaintance, or pay me left handed compliments, such as saying that "sometimes an experienced person's advice was of great value to younger men.35

P.S. The statement that warping in connection with the turning of the rudder was patented in 1901 was not from me. The reporter must have gotten this elsewhere.

1 The City of Chicago had changed the number of Chanute's house from 400 to 1138 Dearborn Avenue a fact unknown to Wilbur Wright.

2 The fact that this interview touched off a quarrel that was to mar the long friendship between Chanute and Wilbur Wright has seemed to justify its inclusion here in full. Chanute was reported as saying:

"I admire the Wrights. I feel friendly toward them for the marvels they have achieved; but you can easily gauge how I feel concerning their attitude at present by the remark I made to Wilbur Wright recently. I told him I was sorry to see they were suing other experimenters and abstaining from entering the contests and competitions in which other men are brilliantly winning laurels. I told him that in my opinion they are wasting valuable time over lawsuits which they ought to concentrate in their work. Personally, I do not think that the courts will hold that the principle underlying the warping tips can be patented. They may win on the application of their particular mechanism.

"The fundamental principle underlying the warping of the tips for the purposes of balance was understood even before the suggestion contained in d'Esterno's Pamphlet fifty years ago. In modern times the warping tips were actually used in flight by Pierre Mouillard, a French engineer. He flew with a glider containing the flexible tips near Cairo, Egypt, in 1885. The idea is protected in a patent granted him by the United States Government in 1901.

"The Wrights, I am told, are making their strongest attack upon the point that they warp the tips in connection with the turning of their rudder. Even this is covered by a patent granted to an American in 1901.

"There is no question that the fundamental principle underlying was well known before the Wrights incorporated it in their machine."

Chanute was certainly misquoted with regard to the date of the Mouillard patent, actually issued May 18, 1897. Also, no "flight" was made by Mouillard in 1885. Twenty years earlier, however, Mouillard and his crude second glider (the first was built in 1856) were lifted a short distance off the ground by an unexpected puff of wind. A crash and a wrenched shoulder for Mouillard were the result. There is no evidence that Mouillard had even attempted at that time to operate the movable marginal portions at the wing tips.

Mouillard's third and last attempt to fly was made on January 3, 1896, with a glider built with funds provided by Chanute (see Plate 113). In this experiment, described by Mouillard in a letter to Chanute, Jan. 5, 1896, the machine, with Mouillard aboard and a rope attached to the front end, "to guide it and maintain its proper course against the wind," was pushed over the edge of a hill and, after rolling downward a short distance, rose "8 or 10 meters," and sank gently to earth. The glider had never been free. Mouillard admitted the trial proved little or nothing, the total forward movement through the air being about 28 meters and the duration "Plus d'une minute." Of the steering, Mouillard said: "Among other things, I was not satisfied with the steering action of my movable planes . . . at the wing tips. I must greatly increase their importance. This organ is indispensable. Their absence is what has prevented Lilienthal from going further; it is they which permit one to go to the left or the right. . . .

Wilbur Wright to Octave Chanute, January 29, 1910