On September 21, 1908, Wilbur Wright made a flight at Le Mans, France lasting just over one hour and 31 minutes traveling roughly 61 miles. His flight 107 years ago broke the distance and duration records at that time.
Years later, the French honored Wilbur with a monument reflecting his and Orville’s contributions to heavier-than-air flight.
In 1920, The Literary Digest for August 20 included an article about the French memorial to Wilbur Wright and his achievements in their country.
“The American Genius who gave wings to humanity,” as a French appreciator called Wilbur Wright, was honored on July 17 by the unveiling of a monument erected to him in Le Mans, France.
The French Government was among the first to recognize the achievement of the obscure Yankee machinist in whose little bicycle repair shop in Dayton, Ohio, one of the dreams of the ages became reality.
“In half a dozen addresses, one of them by Premier Millerand of France,” says the Boston Herald, the story of the American inventor was told.
Wilbur Wright made several of his early flights at Le Mans.
Says The Herald, recalling his achievement:
As a chapter from the wonderland of science the like of it is not to be found in the whole history of invention.
Twenty years ago navigation of the air was no more than an ideal. Lilienthal and others had tried to “imitate the birds,” but their planes were mere “gliders,” with no real grip on the atmosphere.
Hiram Maxim’s improvement turned out to be more of a lifting apparatus than a flier, and the development of Langley’s motor-driven machine stopped with its plunge into the Potomac River in December, 1903.
From the Wright brothers nobody could have expected anything revolutionary in aeronautics. They carried into the work of the world no more than an ordinary high school education and a taste for mechanics; in 1900 they were running a little bicycle and machine repair shop at Dayton, Ohio.
But having read of the Lilienthal experiments, they had been tempted to make trial flights with “bats” of their own.
One result was a new type of biplane glider which they learned to manipulate with great skill.
Finally wooden propellers were attached to the machine, and, using a gas engine for motive power, the brothers launched out at Kitty Hawk, N. C., on December 17, 1903.
“The weird contrivance lifted itself into the air, made a flight of 852 feet in the face of a twenty-mile wind, and landed its passenger in safety. That day,” adds the same eye-witness, “stands out as one of the memorable dates in the history of civilization, for on that day the airplane was born.”
The Wrights spent a good part of the subsequent five years in improving their machine.
Then Wilbur took it to Europe and, on September 21, 1908, before a distinguished assembly at Le Mans, he flew a distance of sixty-one miles.
A month later his airplane won the Michelin cup; in the following year he gave demonstrations before the kings of Spain, England, and Italy, returning home to share with his brother, from the hands of President Taft, the gold medals which had been awarded by the Aero Club of America.
Since those triumphs were won the airplane has gone from more to more, rising to the clouds and outspeeding the fastest express train, crossing unexplored continents and making its way over trackless oceans.
Without it the war might not have been won; without it peace would lose one of the mightiest of its protagonists.
But it had its humble beginnings in the obscure machine shop at Dayton, and the world today regards Wilbur Wright, with the Italians who are now planning a further tribute to him, as “the American genius who gave wings to humanity.”
The First Flight Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin shows against a picture of the Wilbur Wright Memorial dedication in Le Mans, France.