Registers of Papers in the Manuscript Division
of the Library of Congress



Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data
United States. Library of Congress. Manuscript Division.
Wilbur and Orville Wright: a register of their papers in the Library of Congress.
(Registers of papers in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress; no. 48)
Supt. of Docs. no.: LC 4.2:W93

1. Wright, Wilbur, 1867-1912-Bibliography. 2. Wright, Orville, 1871-1948- Bibliography. l. Series: United States. Library of Congress. Manuscript Division. Registers of papers in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress; no. 48. Z8986.33.U54 1976 [TL540.W7] 016.62913'0922
75-619198 Rev. ISBN 0-8444-0169-2

Available from the Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540


Since about 1950 "registers" have been the basic finding aids prepared to facilitate use of collections in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress. Since 1958 a limited number of registers have been selected for publication and distribution. A list of these, current to the date of this publication, appears on the inside back cover. A complete list is available in the current issue of Library of Congress Publications in Print.

A register provides the essential information about a manuscript collection: its provenance and conditions of administration; its scope and general content; a biographical note about the person or family group whose papers it contains; its organization into series; and a container list. A register, however, is not a calendar or index and usually does not permit its user, without reference to the collection itself, to locate individual manuscripts. It is an aid to research, not a substitute for it. Some additional information about a collection may be secured by correspondence with the Manuscript Division, but detailed inquiries must be satisfied by a researcher's examination of the collection itself. This register has been prepared to assist in such examination.

Biographical Note

1867, Apr. 16 Born, Millville, Ind.
1889Began publication of a four-page weekly newspaper, the West Side News
1892-1904Operated a bicycle repair shop and factory
1896-1903Made aerial experiments with kites and gliders
1899Built a model biplane which he flew as a kite
1900Made first trip to Kitty Hawk, N.C., for experimental flights
1901Built wind tunnel for testing wing surfaces
1903, Dec. 17Participated with Orville in the first successful flight of a motor-powered airplane
1908Made record-breaking flights near Le Mans, France, and concluded an agreement with a French syndicate for construction of flying machines in France
1909Made round trip demonstration flights from Governors Island, N.Y., to the Statue of Liberty and Grant's Tomb
With Orville organized the American Wright Co.
1912 May 30Died, Dayton, Ohio


1871 Aug. 19Born Dayton,Ohio
1889Edited the West Side News
1892-1904Operated a bicycle repair shop and factory
1896-1903Made aerial experiments with kites and gliders
1900Made first trip to Kitty Hawk, N.C., for experimental flights
1903. Dec. 17Made first successful flight in a motor-powered airplane
1906Received patent for the Wright flying machine
1908Was seriously injured in airplane crash during demonstration flights for U.S. War Department
1909Successfully completed airplane tests for the War Department
Organized the American Wright Co.
1910Formed first of the Wright exhibition teams of pilots trained to demonstrate the Wright airplane
1915Sold his interest in the American Wright Co.
Became Director of the Wright Aeronautical Laboratory in Dayton, Ohio
Appointed member of the U.S. Naval Consulting Board
1920Appointed member of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics
1948, Jan. 30Died, Dayton, Ohio

Scope and Content Note

The papers of Wilbur and Orville Wright cover the years 1881 through 1948, with the bulk of the manuscripts dated after 1900. The papers include diaries and notebooks, family papers, general correspondence, subject files, scrapbooks, and miscellaneous papers.

The diaries and notebooks are among the most significant of the Wright papers. The most historically important of these are the volumes for the year 1903, including Orville Wright's entry for December 17 which gives an account of the first successful powered flights. In general, the diaries describe the brothers' flights at Kitty Hawk and their scientific experiments. However, they also include diary entries and financial notes on their 1907 trip to Europe, Wilbur's trip abroad in 1908, and Orville's European tour of 1913. Another group of entries refers to their flights at College Park, Md., in 1909 and at Montgomery, Ala., in 1910. Apart from the biographical information which they contain, the diaries arc significant for the scientific data, formulas, and computations which are scattered throughout; for here are to be found the aerodynamic and design factors which enabled the Wright brothers to produce a successful airplane where others had failed.

The family papers. consisting of about 875 letters, are arranged under the name of the correspondent. Most of the letters are from Orville and Wilbur Wright, their only sister, Katharine, and their father, Milton Wright, a bishop of the United Brethren Church. There are also a few letters written by two other brothers, Lorin and Reuchlin. One quality which distinguishes the letters of Orville and Wilbur is a light, humorous element which is usually concealed in their correspondence with others.

The largest segment of papers is the general correspondence, composed of letters exchanged with the general public and a host of the world's notables. Of these, the following are represented by a substantial number of letters. Among the earliest aviators are Henry H. Arnold; two French pilots who were trained to fly by Wilbur Wright, Comte Charles de Lambert and Paul Tissandier; Benjamin D. Foulois; Baden Baden-Powell; Griftith Brewer, the first Englishman to fly, who corresponded with the Wrights from 1908 to 1947 and gave constant support to Orville Wright in his controversy with the Smithsonian Institution; Charles A. Lindbergh; Grover C. Loening; Frank S. Lahm, the first airplane pilot in the U.S. Army; Glenn L. Martin; and Charles S. Rolls. Also there are numerous letters from Vilhjalmur Stefansson; Roy Knabenshue, who managed the teams of men trained to demonstrate the Wright airplanes; Robert J. Collier; Earl N. Findley, editor of U.S. Air Services; Fred C. Kelly, the authorized biographer of the Wright brothers; Cleveland Abbe; Henry Ford; and William J. Tate, the Wrights' first host at Kitty Hawk, N.C. There is much correspondence with the Wrights' lawyers concerning their business affairs, including Harry A. Toulmin, who procured the basic patent for their invention of the airplane, as well as Frederick P. Fish, H. Springmann, and Pliny W. Williamson.

Probably the most significant group of correspondence in the papers is that received from the American engineer and aeronautical pioneer, Octave Chanute. Fortunately, the replies to Chanute's letters, mainly written by Wilbur Wright, are located in the Manuscript Division's collection of Octave Chanute papers. This exchange of letters begins with Wilbur's calmly prophetic statement of May 13, 1900, "For some years I have been afflicted with the belief that flight is possible to man." The letters, with their discussions of the unresolved scientific and philosophic problems posed by manned flight, emanate a fiercely shared dedication to their common goal.

Among the topics contained in an extensive subject file are papers relating to the Wrights' business ventures and patent negotiations in the United States and such foreign nations as France, England, Germany, Italy, Austria, Russia, and Japan. When the Wrights launched their efforts to sell airplanes in Europe in 1906, following an indifferent response to their generous offer of the machines to the U.S. Government, their European representative was Hart O. Berg, an associate of Flint & Co., and their correspondence with him is voluminous.

A large portion of the subject file is composed of legal papers relating to lawsuits and patent claims. The basic features of the Wright flying machine were patented in 1906; however, as the airplane came into more general use, numerous instances of the unauthorized use of features which they had patented came to their attention. Of the various cases in which they were involved, both in Europe and the United States, the records of the Wright Co. vs. the Curtiss Aeroplane Co. and the Wright Co. vs. the Herring-Curtiss Co. are the most extensive.

The subject file also contains papers concerning the Wrights' protracted controversy with the Smithsonian Institution, which resulted in the exile of the 1903 Wright flying machine to the Science Museum in London, England, from 1928 until its triumphant return to the United States, where it was installed in the Smithsonian Institution, on December 17, 1948.

There are three boxes containing papers of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. Orville Wright was appointed to the organization by President Woodrow Wilson on January 29, 1920, and remained on the Committee for over 20 years. The papers pertain to the work of the executive committee and include monthly statements of "Conditions of Appropriations" (1934-42), minutes of semiannual, annual, regular, and special meetings of the Committee (1935-42), and reports of the coordinator and director of aeronautical research (1940-42).

A series of 11 folio-size scrapbooks, beginning in 1902 when the Wrights were conducting glider experiments at Kitty Hawk, contain newspaper and magazine articles relating to their flights and other activities. There is also printed matter concerning other members of their immediate family and many of their prominent friends. The scrapbooks also contain memorabilia such as cartoons, guest badges, posters, occasional telegrams, and autographed testimonial dinner programs. The subject which is most fully documented is the Wrights' controversy with the Smithsonian Institution. There are also a number of rare aero-philatelic items and mementos pertaining to the bestowal of honorary degrees and other tributes.

A group of miscellaneous papers contains biographical material, a few articles by Orville and Wilbur Wright, their wills, and printed matter.

The last series, which was not a part of the original gift of Wright papers but was generated by them, is the typescript of The Papers of Wilbur and Orville Wright, edited by Marvin W. McFarland and published in two volumes by McGraw-Hill Book Co. in 1953. The book is composed of correspondence and extracts from the diaries and notebooks contained in the Wright brothers' papers. Of particular interest are three boxes (nos. 105-107) which contain transcripts of Bishop Milton Wright's diaries for the years 1901-17. The original diaries are not included in the Wright papers.

Description of Series

1-3 Diaries and notebooks, 1900-1919. 3 containers.
Diaries and notebooks of both Orville and Wilbur Wright, arranged chronologically.
4-7 Family correspondence, 1881-1924. 4 containers.
Letters exchanged by family members, in chronological arrangement under the name of the writer.
8-59 General Correspondence, 1899-1948. 52 containers.
Letters sent and received in alphabetical arrangement. Where there are numerous letters exchanged with an individual, they are chronologically arranged.
60-85 Subject File. 26 containers.
Arranged alphabetically by subject heading.
86-95 Scrapbooks, 1902-48. 10 volumes.
Arranged chronologically.
96-104 Miscellany. 9 containers.
Miscellaneous papers, mainly articles by the Wright brothers, biographical information, and printed matter, grouped by types of material.
105-120 Ancillary Papers. 16 containers.
Typescript of The Papers of Wilbur and Orville Wright in the arrangement made by the editor of the book.

Processed by: Grover Batts and Thelma Queen, May 1972
Date completed: October 1975

Page designer's note
The contents of this document are faithful to the original, and I tried my best to preserve the 'look and feel' of the register as well. However, defining extra spacing in html is quite the challenge, so I used short and long hard rules instead. For those unsatisfied with this convenient electronic form, you may request a hard copy directly from The Library of Congress.

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