Maligning the Wright Legacy
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As the popularity of the Wright brothers increased, the aviation industry exploded and soon jealousy and greed entered the picture. Airplane manufacturers did not want to pay the license fees asked by the Wright brothers. Instead, they engaged in a long-winded smear campaign against the brothers to escape paying them royalty.
France and Germany refused outright to issue patents to the Wright brothers for controlling the lateral motion of airplanes by ailerons or wing-warping. In America an ugly lawsuit erupted with Glenn Curtiss.
Curtiss was selling airplanes with aileron controls and refusing to pay any royalties to the Wrights. Curtiss enlisted Albert Zahm to fight this claim. The Smithsonian Institution also trivialized the contributions of the Wright brothers to avenge the defeat suffered by their former director – Samuel Langley. Curtiss and Zahm modified Langley’s airplane making many changes to the original design without anyone’s knowledge. They then flew the airplane with no method of lateral control in an attempt to prove that the Wright brothers did not really invent the airplane.
The Smithsonian Institution recanted this claim only years later and after the Wright brothers won their suit against Curtiss. The Europeans never paid any money and simply used the Wright patents free of cost.
In the end tired from all the feuding, Wilbur succumbed to a mild case of food poisoning. Orville went on to sell the Wright Company in 1916 and returned to his first love – inventing new things.
Despite their best efforts, the Smithsonian could not really malign the legacy of the Wright brothers. They are even today known simply as the ‘inventors of the airplane’ and there can be no greater tribute than that!
Other Interesting Sites:
History of Photography
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