Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Orville Wright's "True" Fiction for the Boy Scouts and for "Very Young People"

 To make your children capable of honesty is the beginning of education.
~ John Ruskin

In previous posts, we have been questioning the truth of aviation history as it's presented by the brothers Wright.

Was Orville or Wilbur the first to fly?

At the time of his death in 1912, Wilbur had been named the "first to fly," for the simple reason that the first three claimed flights of the Wright brothers December 17, 1903, weren't considered long enough to be called "sustained." Both brothers had said that Wilbur made the fourth flight, lasting 57-59 seconds.

But soon after Wilbur's death, in a 1914 Boys' Life magazine, an article credited to Orville Wright was published where he claimed it was he who made the longest reported flight of 57 seconds instead of his brother, Wilbur. Why is this significant? For one reason, the brothers themselves didn't accept the first three shorter "flights"as true flights. (This will be addressed in a later post). It would appear that Orville wanted to be remembered as first to fly--even if he stole the longest flight and the crown from his brother.

Did Orville know about the error(s) in the article?

Orville Wright advocates could say that the untruths (there were other discrepancies) in the article slipped by Orville's eagle eye, and/or they might blame the errors on the magazine itself. It's a fact that journalists often make mistakes in their publications. But it's easy enough to prove that both Orville and Wilbur kept close track of publications about themselves, as I mentioned in former posts. If they didn't like what was written, they demanded a change. And without a doubt, Orville knew about discrepancies.
 "The article was never corrected by me..." Orville Wright in 1942 (From Wright letters, the Library of Congress)

Orville was replying to a query by a  Mr. Max J. Herzberg, who wanted to include Orville's 1914 Boys' Life article in an anthology.

" Dear Mr. Herzberg:-
               How I learned to fly" was written in 1914 by Leslie W. Quirk...for "Boys' Life Magazine" after an interview with me. The article was never corrected by me and has many inaccuracies....
  If the anthology is for very young people the seriousness of the inaccuracies is not so important...."

In contrast we have this excerpt from another letter  Orville wrote to Mr Herzberg on June 26, 1942, (Wright letters, Library of Congress)
"Dear Mr. Herzberg: I beg to acknowledge receipt of your letter of June 20th asking permission to publish an article which appeared, as though written by my brother Wilbur, in "The Independent" of February 4, 1904. This was a forgery, written by a  D. A. Will of Baltimore, Maryland. 
The facts were brought to the attention of Hamilton Holt, editor of "The  Independent". Holt had two other cases similar to this on his hands at the time. I do not know what he did in regard to the others, but in my brother's case he was not man enough to make a full and open correction as an honest editor should have done. As a result you and others have been deceived. And Holt has become the president of a college to instruct the youth of America!..." *
To repeat:
"(Holt) was not man enough to make a full and open correction as an honest editor should have done." --Orville Wright, 1942 *

What can we deduct from these letters, side by side? In my opinion, they display a glaring hypocrisy and a double standard on the part of Orville. The July 11 letter proves that Orville was long aware of what he called "inaccuracies" in the Boys' Life article, but he says he never "got around" to correcting them. As for the "Independent" article, however, Orville declares that the editor, Hamilton Holt, isn't "man enough" to correct its inaccuracies openly and now he's going to "instruct the youth of America." As for his own instruction of the youth of  America, Orville gives himself a pass.  His  deception of editors, young people, and the Boy Scouts "is not so important."

As we shall see in the next post, not only do some of the so called "errors" in the Boys' Life story inflate Orville Wright as a pioneer above his own brother, but they also demean the great aviation pioneers, Lilienthal and Octave Chanute.

In December, 1928, "Boys' Life" published the Orville Wright story again.

It's ironic that by this time Orville Wright had been declared  an "honorary Boy Scout" because "The mission of the Boy Scouts of America is to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law." 

The first law is:
"TRUSTWORTHY. A Scout tells the truth. He keeps his promises. Honesty is part of his code of conduct. People can depend on him."

  The 1928 magazine article was embellished with many more pictures depicting the Wrights' early experiments. None of the  major errors in the story had been corrected either by the editor Quirk or by Orville. Orville still got credit for the longest flight at Kill Devil Hills.
First page of Boys' Life article, 1928, by Orville Wright

Second page of Boys' Life article, 1928
But Orville had made at least one correction. In the last page (below) of the 1928 article, he left out his 1914 statement that after the longest flight, he was ready to fly again right away. It could hardly be true if, as stated in the previous stories, the pilot hit a hummock of sand after the longest flight, breaking the front elevator supports and braces.

Clip from 1914 Boys' Life article

Clip from 1928 Boys' Life article
In conclusion, I believe I have clearly enough demonstrated that the Boys' Life articles were authorized by Orville Wright.

 In 1948 Orville died. The Boys' Life article "How I Learned to Fly" has been reprinted a number of times since his death. In 2010 it was reprinted in a book called "The Best of Boys' Life." Either the magazine is unaware of the many errors in it, or it doesn't feel it's necessary to correct them. I strongly believe the editors should correct them in the best tradition of the Boy Scout's first law.

 It is particularly troubling to confront such callousness about truth in the Wright saga when we begin to examine both brothers' attempts and often successes in maligning and discrediting some of our greatest pioneer aviators. One example is Glenn Hammond Curtiss, who was defamed by Orville Wright after Curtiss's death. Other examples are Gustave Whitehead and John Montgomery.

Boys' Life 1928 last page with clip describing longest flight

To be continued ...

*True to form, a day after the 1904 article in the "Independent" came out, Wilbur attacked the editor Holt in a letter. Holt responded by making an apology three weeks later, according to Fred Howard in his biography of the Wright Brothers, Orville and Wilbur, page 150.  But Holt's apology wasn't good enough. So Wilbur attacked the author of the article and received another apology from the editor. None of Holt's endeavors was acceptable to the Wrights.