On September 24, 1959, President Eisenhower declared December 17 to be Wright Brothers Day—thus commemorating the anniversary of the legendary duo’s flight at Kitty Hawk in 1903. In honor of Wright Brothers Day, Smithsonian Libraries and the National Air and Space Museum turn to a piece of history found in the special collections housed in the DeWitt Clinton Ramsey Room of the Museum’s library.
Located within the stacks is a book which, by itself, is a noteworthy contribution to the history and study of aviation. Published in 1943, Fred C. Kelly’s The Wright Brothers is a biography of the famous brothers authorized by Orville Wright. However, the copy housed within our rare books room is unique in that it contains over 1,000 signatures from legends, pioneers, and other contributors to the field of aviation, thus making it one of the jewels of the National Air and Space Museum Library.
Donated by George A. Page, the (signed) book is a testament to a 30-year endeavor to capture the names of aviators and individuals who contributed to the field. An aviator himself, Page was an employee of Curtiss-Wright for 34 years—ultimately attaining the titles of chief engineer and director of engineering. It was through his professional contacts that Page managed to send a copy of Kelly’s biography to Orville Wright for his autograph. In the ensuing decades, Page would add approximately 1,000 signatures from other aviators. To improve access to Kelly’s biography, Page created a separate index to catalog the numerous contributing signees—thus making it easier to locate autographs. Included among those who signed Page’s book are historic figures such as Charles Lindbergh, Richard E. Byrd, Donald Douglas, Igor Sikorsky, James H. Doolittle, Chuck Yeager, Jacqueline Cochran, and Dwight D. Eisenhower. Sharad J. Shah is a library technician at Smithsonian Libraries. Learn more about our Ramsey Room and the important materials it includes from sheet music to first editions.