Langley Experiments Scrapbooks

Nine days before the Wright brothers' first successful flight, Smithsonian Secretary Samuel Langley had the trial for his steam-powered machine, called the Great Aerodrome. Heavily funded by the United States government, the Aerodrome broke apart almost immediately upon takeoff in a highly-publicized event, and Langley and the Smithsonian Institution suffered embarrassment over the incident. After Langley passed away in 1906, his successor, Charles Walcott, claimed that although Langley may not have flown that December morning the Aerodrome was certainly capable of it. Walcott's "proof" was in a rebuilt version of Langley's Aerodrome, which was later successfully flown by American airplane manufacturer Glenn Curtiss. Curtiss, who was engaged in a patent suit with the Wright brothers, rebuilt and flew Langley's Aerodrome with 1914 modifications with the hope of showing the courts that the Wrights did not invent the airplane. While Curtiss eventually lost the patent suit, the flight was used by the Smithsonian to redeem Langley's role in the history of flight.