When Otto Lilienthal built his "Lilienthal Hang-Glider" in 1894, he considered it the safest and most successful of all his glider designs. In flight, the pilot hung between the wings by bars that passed beneath his arms. Lilienthal made glides of up to 1,150 feet (345 meters) in machines of this type. Despite Lilienthal's faith in the safety of his invention, he met his death following a crash in a hang-glider similar to the one on exhibit here.
His efforts were not in vain, however, for two young men named Orville and Wilbur Wright read about Lilienthal's experiments and were inspired to tackle the problem of heavier-than-air flight themselves. In 1899, they wrote to the Smithsonian Institution for information about experiments that had been conducted up to that time.
More information: Lilienthal Hang-Glider