Everybody knows that the Wright Brothers' 1903 Flyer, the first aircraft to successfully fly, is one of the proudest exhibits at the Smithsonian's National Air & Space Museum in Washington, DC.

What most people DON'T know, however, is that for nearly 40 years, the Smithsonian refused to take it.

The reason why is an epic tale of bruised egos, corporate intrigue and international scandal.

Let's talk about it! ( 🧵​ )


The Wrights refused to let the Smithsonian have it!

So it hung in the South Kensington Science Museum, in London, where it inspired a young man named Nevil Norway, who became one of the world's foremost aeronautical engineers in the 1920s and '30s ― but was better known as the novelist, Nevil Shute.

As a result of the quid-pro-quo to finally bring the Flyer home, Alberto Santos-Dumont, a household name and hero in Latin America, is almost unknown in the USA.

@publius that's a rather obscure comment about your guy Santos-Dumont @jalefkowit


@2ck @jalefkowit

What's obscure about it?

Because of the Langley-Curtis shenanigans, the Smithsonian, to get the Flyer, had to essentially agree to a "gag order" relating to other claimants to first flight, and US educational institutions have followed suit.

Hence, Alberto Santos-Dumont, who holds the FAI record (meaning he did it in Paris in front of judges) for first powered controlled heavier-than-air flight is virtually never mentioned in the USA. In Brazil he's a national hero.

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obscure for the reasons you gave... many (most?) people haven't heard of the guy or the history you relate.

@2ck @jalefkowit

Americans in the narrow sense of the USA? No, most haven't heard of him.

The literally billions of people who live from the Mexican border down to Patagonia, and in Europe? Yes!

@publius @2ck Santos-Dumont was absolutely an important figure in the early days of aviation. I didn't mean to slight him by not mentioning him. The thread was just primarily about the disposition of the Wrights' 1903 Flyer, so I didn't want to wander too far away from that topic.

All that being said, the flights he made before the Wright brothers' 1903 flight were in lighter-than-air craft (such as his airship N-5, here shown circling the Eiffel Tower in 1901). He did not turn to heavier-than-air flight until 1905.

This website dedicated to the history of the Wright brothers offers as a counterpoint a letter from a Brazilian arguing the case for Santos-Dumont, and gives what I think is a fair evaluation of it: wright-brothers.org/History_Wi

Regardless of who went first, both the Wrights and Santos-Dumont were key contributors to the science of aviation. They all deserve to be remembered.

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