I Have Today Seen Wilbur Wright and his Great White Bird

The airplane debuted to rave reviews.

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“The air was bumpy and I had the feeling that there were moments when Orville didn’t have full control of the machine as we dipped groundward. It was as if someone on the ground had a string attached to us and would pull occasionally as they would a kite. But each time Orville would raise the elevator slightly and we would gain back the lost altitude.”

—Benjamin Foulois on flying a test run with Orville at Fort Myer, Virginia, July 30, 1909

FANS AND RIVALS By the time Wilbur and Orville began regularly staging public flights in the United States, most Americans and Europeans had read about their exploits in the newspapers. But even this more savvy audience found itself transfixed by the sight of an actual airplane buzzing overhead. For many it was tantamount to a religious experience.

“I’ve seen him! I’ve seen him! Yes, I have today seen Wilbur Wright and his great white bird, the beautiful mechanical bird. There is no doubt! Wilbur and Orville Wright have well and truly flown.”

—Le Figaro, August 11, 1908

“The whistles of the passing tugs and ferry boats were tooting a mighty chorus and the Battery sea wall was black with people. The news was flashed over the city, and from the windows of the towering buildings thousands forgot all else and watched the huge artificial bird sailing up the river.”

—The New York Times’ account of Wilbur Wright’s flight up the Hudson River to Grant’s Tomb on October 5, 1909

“I have never seen such a look of wonder on the faces of the multitude. From the gray-haired man to the child, everyone seemed to feel that it was a new day in their lives.”

—A clergyman in Chicago after seeing the Wrights fly at an air meet in 1910

Even the Wrights’ most avid critics had to admit that the brothers’ flights were infinitely more sophisticated and successful than anything anyone had done in an airplane before. But that didn’t keep some competitors and aviation “experts” from chiding the brothers, especially Will, for their arrogant and aloof manner or the peculiar design of their Flyer.

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