Aviation's Birth Certificate
When a private collection of Wright Company papers went public, we discovered that many of our notions about the Wrights' business practices were wrong.
- By Douglas Gantenbein
- Air & Space magazine, March 2003
(Page 3 of 3)
In Seattle, the Museum of Flight is building an exhibit around the Wright papers. Opening in December 2003, “The Birth of an Industry” will illustrate the struggles and triumphs of aviation’s early years.
The industry eventually prospered, but not in time to help Orville. For three years after Wilbur died of typhoid fever in 1912, he managed the company and devoted himself to legal battles protecting the Wright patent, which covered nearly all aspects of controlling a powered aircraft. Perhaps because Wilbur believed that changes to basic designs would invalidate their patent, the brothers’ airplanes failed to evolve. Europe seized the initiative, and by 1914 European manufacturers, supported by governments arming for war, were turning out 100-mph fighters and multi-engine bombers while the Wright Company was still marketing its relatively primitive Model C Flyer.
It was inevitable that the company would fail. On August 26, 1915, Orville sold it for $250,000, just one-quarter of its initial capitalization. Records of the sale can be found among the collection too—poignant reminders that success in the business of aviation has always been tough to achieve, even for the men who invented it.