The Wright Brothers and the Race to Be First

Smithsonian, Air & Space

Paul Glenshaw is a lecturer and instructor for the Smithsonian Associates, a regular contributor to the Smithsonian’s Air & Space magazine, and a co-writer and director of the public television documentary The Lafayette Escadrille. A long-time member of the Wright Experience team in Warrenton, Virginia, he is one of a small few who have seen Wright brothers’ aircraft actually fly.


In the fall and winter of 1903, two highly gifted, motivated, innovative, and courageous engineering teams ran a neck-and-neck race to be the first to fly. One was a pair of brothers—Orville and Wilbur Wright–who were absolute peers. The other team was a mentor (Dr. Samuel Langley, secretary of the Smithsonian) and his brilliant assistant (Charles Matthews Manly). We know who won the race—but do we know why?

Using images and films that draw on rare, unpublished sources, Smithsonian expert Paul Glenshaw will present a fascinating study of the nature and realities of creating cutting-edge innovation – and demonstrate how lessons from over a century ago still apply today.



Recommended Reading:

The Bishop’s Boys: A Life of Wilbur and Orville Wright, by Tom D. Crouch

Miracle at Kitty Hawk: The Letters of Wilbur and Orville Wright, by Fred Kelly (**For vastly more detail, see The Papers of Orville and Wilbur Wright, edited by Marvin McFarland.)

Memoir on Mechanical Flight, by Samuel Pierpont Langley and Charles Manly. (Available for free download at

The Wright Brothers’ collection of papers and photographs is available for viewing at the Library of Congress online:





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