The Wright Brothers & The Invention of the Aerial Age

Removed temporarily from its place of honor in Milestones of Flight, the 1903 Wright Flyer, the world's first successful airplane, serves as the centerpiece of this exhibition, which celebrates the centennial of the Wright brothers' historic flights. For the first time, the airplane is being displayed on the floor, so you can get a close-up, eye-level look at the historic craft that ushered in the age of flight.

The first part of this exhibition tells the story of how Wilbur and Orville Wright invented the airplane—who they were, how they worked, and what they accomplished. The second part shows how their monumental achievement affected the world in the decade that followed, when people everywhere became fascinated with flight. The exhibition includes many historic photographs and cultural artifacts, along with instruments and personal items associated with the Wrights.


1903 Wright Flyer

1903 Wright Flyer
The 1903 Wright Flyer made four flights at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on December 17, 1903, the best covering 852 feet in 59 seconds. It was the first heavier-than-air, powered aircraft to make a sustained, controlled flight with a pilot aboard.

The Wrights used their proven canard biplane configuration which was rooted in their initial 1899 kite design. Key to the Flyer's success was its three-axis control system, which featured wing-warping for lateral balance, a moveable rudder, and an elevator for pitch control.

The right wing was four inches longer than the left to compensate for the engine being heavier than and mounted to the right of the pilot. The wings were rigged with a slight droop to reduce the effects of crosswinds. Gift of the Estate of Orville Wright

More information: 1903 Wright Flyer

1902 Wright glider (reproduction)

1902 Wright glider (reproduction)
Compared to their previous gliders, the Wrights' 1902 glider had a much thinner airfoil and longer and narrower wings, which their wind tunnel tests had shown to be more efficient. To improve lateral control, they added a fixed vertical rudder to the rear of the glider. They retained the reliable forward elevator for pitch control but made it elliptical in shape.

1900 Wright Glider (reproduction)

1900 Wright glider (reproduction)
The 1900 glider was the Wrights' first piloted aircraft. First flight-tested at Kitty Hawk in the fall of that year, it incorporated the wire-braced biplane structure and wing-warping control system they developed with their 1899 kite.

1899 Wright Kite (reproduction)

1899 Wright kite (reproduction)
The Wrights combined their wing-warping control concept and the structural design of the Chanute-Herring glider in their first aircraft, a biplane kite with a 5-foot wingspan, built in July 1899.

Original Wright Brothers-Built Bicycle

Wright St. Clair bicycle
Only five bicycles manufactured by the Wright brothers are known to exist. This one, a model they called the St. Clair, was built in 1898. Less expensive than the Van Cleve, the St. Clair sold for $42.50. Lent by the Henry Ford Museum, Dearborn, Mich.