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Kitty Hawk, Part I
Brian Trumbore

Next week I'm going to be in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina (Hurricane Isabel permitting), visiting the Wright Brothers memorial there. This year is the 100th anniversary of the historic first flight, but before I file a report from the scene, I thought we'd review a few of the big events of 1903.

About a month ago I wrote of Henry Ford and the founding of the Ford Motor Company that year, but there were some other major items.

On March 21, organized labor scored a huge victory with a report from the Anthracite Coal Strike Commission, a body appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt to investigate conditions in the mining industry. The commission established that "no person shall be refused employment, or in any way discriminated against, on account of membership in any labor organization."

July 4, the first Pacific communications cable was opened. President Roosevelt sent a message around the world and back to him in 12 minutes.

July 26, the first transcontinental automobile trip ended when a 20- hp Winton driven by H. Nelson Jackson and Sewell K. Crocker arrived in New York City. There were some who charged Jackson with fraud, saying there was no way his car made it on its own the entire way, but no evidence of wrongdoing was ever found. Jackson and Crocker had started out from San Francisco on May 23.

Later, on August 21, a 12-hp Packard model F driven by Tommy Fetch and M.C. Karrup arrived in New York. It had left San Francisco on June 20.

Also in 1903, Russian neuro-physiologist Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936) invented the term "conditioned reflex" to describe the subject of his recent research. Pavlov rang a bell each time he gave food to a dog. After 20 to 40 repetitions, the dog began to salivate when it heard the bell, even if no food was present. Pavlov won a Nobel Prize for his work in 1904. Homer Simpson would later prove, again, that Pavlov's theories were sound.

Here's one that probably doesn't belong here.December 30, a fire broke out at the Iroquois Theater in Chicago during a performance by Eddie Foy. 588 died. This led to all manner of new building codes in the country, such as more fire walls, better and more exits, unobstructed alleyways, etc.

You also had the important issue of the Panama Canal in 1903. On January 22, the Hay-Herran Treaty was signed with Colombia. This granted a 99-year lease and U.S. sovereignty over a canal zone in Panama. The U.S. Senate ratified it on March 17, but on August 12 the Colombian Senate rejected it.

November 3, a revolt was launched in Panama against Colombian rule after President Roosevelt ordered U.S. naval forces into the area. The rebellion was engineered by the Panama Canal Company and other local groups with the approval of the Roosevelt administration.

Three days later, Nov. 6, the U.S. recognized the Republic of Panama. Then on Nov. 18, the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty was negotiated. This gave the United States full control of a ten-mile-wide canal zone in Panama in return for $10 million in gold plus a yearly payout of $250,000.

As for the Wright Brothers, Orville (1871-1948) and Wilbur (1867-1912), they had a bicycle shop in Dayton, Ohio and in the 1890s they commenced work there on an airplane. Neighbors said, "They're back in that bicycle shop again. I don't know what they think they're going to do. They will never make a machine that can fly," recalled Mabel Griep, a neighbor. Ms. Griep's father was a big supporter of the Wright brothers, and he used to tell Mabel, "You just let those boys go, those boys know what they're doing." ["The American Century"] For their part, Orville and Wilbur let everyone come into the shop to see what they were doing and the ridicule never seemed to bother them.

The Wright Brothers had designed and flown 3 gliders between 1900-1902 before they took their powered plane to Kitty Hawk. I'll cover December 1903 next time, but a few days before the historic flight on the 17th, a gentleman by the name of Samuel P. Langley tested his own heavier-than-air flying machine, launching it from a houseboat in the Potomac River on December 8. On takeoff its wing hit a stanchion and the machine crashed. Langley was subjected to much ridicule.

But in 1914, two years after Wilbur's death, Orville Wright locked horns with the Smithsonian Institution. It seems that Langley had been the leader of the Smithsonian and his replacement authorized the rebuilding of Langley's 'Aerodrome' with all manner of modifications. After testing it out, the Smithsonian claimed that had the Aerodrome been launched properly in 1903, it would have flown, nine days before the Wrights' plane, the Kitty Hawk.

As noted by Fred Howard ("Oxford Companion."), "The Aerodrome was later displayed in the Smithsonian's National Museum, as the first airplane 'capable of sustained free flight.' Orville retaliated by exiling the Kitty Hawk to England for display in London's Science Museum. The feud was settled in 1942, but not until December 1948 - eleven months after Orville's death - was the Kitty Hawk installed as the National Museum's prized centerpiece." [I didn't know that!]

By the way, Teddy Roosevelt was the first president (former, at the time) to go up in a plane, October 11, 1910, in St. Louis. It was piloted by Arch Hoxsey and attained an altitude of 50 feet in a four-minute flight. Within the year, Hoxsey died in a crash. Roosevelt had also been the first president to go down in a submarine back in 1905.


"The Century," Peter Jennings and Todd Brewster
"The Oxford Companion to United States History," edited by Paul S. Boyer
"The American Century," Harold Evans
"The Encyclopedia of American Facts and Dates," edited by Gorton Carruth

Next week.Kitty Hawk.

Brian Trumbore

BUYandHOLD does not recommend any securities. The security mentioned above is being used for illustrative purposes only and should not be regarded as an offer to sell or as a solicitation of an offer to buy.


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