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    Wright Brothers Estate: Archive of Five Letters Regarding the Sale of the Original Wright Flyer to the Smithsonian and Finally Getting Credit for Being First in Flight. One letter signed by Harold Miller, the Wright Brothers' nephew and co-executor of their estate, and four letters from Mabel Beck, the Wright brothers' loyal secretary, who advocates on behalf of the brothers for proper credit due them for inventing human flight. The much-publicized feud between the Wright brothers and the Smithsonian Institution is well documented, but the minutiae over wording of the "label" that was to accompany the Kitty Hawk is not commonly known, which these letters elucidate. After Orville Wright's death on January 30, 1948, it fell to Mabel Beck and the heirs to negotiate with the Smithsonian to give proper credit for the Wrights' invention, in exchange for the Smithsonian's right to purchase (for $1) the "first in flight" Kitty Hawk. Mabel Beck was suspicious (as Orville Wright had been) that the Smithsonian wouldn't properly credit the plane in its display, since the secretary of the Smithsonian, Samuel Langley, fancied himself as building the first plane capable of human flight. Letters are all fine. As follows.

    Mabel Beck TLS dated September 13, 1948: One plain page, 7" x 10.25", to aviation editor Earl N. Findley. Comments to the Air Services Magazine publisher after seeing a copy of the "label" in the final form from Harold Miller. "I still maintain that the words 'capable of sustained free flight' should be on that label."
    Mabel Beck TLS dated September 17, 1948: One plain page, 7" x 10.25", to Earl N. Findley. Commenting that "Today I signed a waiver of summons, in Probate Court, for permission to sell the 'Kitty Hawk' to the National Museum for $1... I did not agree with the executors on the label to be attached... But I think the executors and attorneys are anxious to get the machine out of their hands." With transmittal envelope dated September 18.
    Mabel Beck TL (Copy) dated September 17, 1948: One plain page, a carbon copy with handwritten corrections, 8.5" x 11", to Harold Miller. Comments regarding the disposition of her correspondence with the Wright Brothers. "Major Gardner and Fred Kelly have been kind enough to say that you good people in Dayton suggest my looking through any letter from me to the Wright brothers... for the purpose of removing any that I may like to retain..."
    Harold Miller TLS dated September 18, 1948: Two pages, Orville Wright letterhead, 7" x 10.25", to Earl N. Findlay. The Wright nephew and co-executor of the estate discusses the Smithsonian "label" and the censorship of correspondence files before placement with the Library of Congress. "I am enclosing a copy of the final draft of the label that was accepted. It is our intention to cover the word 'capable' in the bill of sale so that the Smithsonian will never use the word in connection with any aircraft in its collection."
    Mabel Beck TL (Copy) dated October 7, 1948: Two plain pages, carbon copies, 7" x 10.25", to Major [Lester D.] Gardner (Wright supporter). A feisty letter commenting on several issues including (again) the use of the word "capable." "The wording of the bill of sale directing that if the word 'capable' is ever used in connection with any other exhibit that the plane will be returned to the heirs is silly. What are the heirs going to do with it? Mr. Wright never wanted to leave the disposition of the plane to his administrators."

    When Orville Wright decided to donate the aeroplane to the Smithsonian, he insisted upon approving the label that would accompany its display, however, as Orville died in January 1948, that task fell to his estate, including his long-serving secretary Mabel Beck, who fought diligently for proper credit. The final, agreed-upon label that accompanies the plane is as follows: "The Original Wright Brothers' Aeroplane. The world's first power-driven heavier-than-air machine in which man made free, controlled, and sustained flight invented and built by Wilbur and Orville Wright. Flown by them at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina December 17, 1903. By original scientific research the Wright Brothers discovered the principles of human flight. As inventors, builders, and flyers they further developed the aeroplane, taught man to fly and opened the era of aviation."


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    May, 2021
    21st-22nd Friday-Saturday
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