Aviation History



by Larry E. Tise, History Press, 2019, $21.99.

Many people assume the only photographic record of the Wright brothers’ most notable experiments with manned, controlled, powered flight is the iconic shot of Orville on takeoff, Wilbur trotting expectantly near a wingtip as though ready to grab something, anything, if the first flight went awry. In the words of this book, it is “perhaps the most famous and widely copied photograph in human history.”

Yet the Wrights were skilled and experienced photographers, again in author Larry Tise’s opinion, “among the great amateur photographers of the early twentieth century.” They had their own photo lab in Dayton and took with them to North Carolina’s Outer Banks a camera that recorded images on glass-plate negatives. (What a wry happenstance that “their” most iconic photo, of that first takeoff, was taken by John T. Daniels, a seaman from the Kill Devil Hills Life-Saving Station.) This slim but important softcover volume does much to correct that misapprehension, with hundreds of long-lost photographs of the Wrights’ work at Kitty Hawk between 1900 and 1911. Many of them are from restored and scanned negatives damaged by Dayton floodwaters in 1913, and unlike cropped prints originally made from those glass plates, they include fascinating marginal details never before published.

There are also numerous close-ups that give glimpses of everyday life—the Kitty Hawk postmaster’s inquisitive dog; a label on a shipping crate; “shifty-eyed Samuel Payne,” a lifesaver; Orville carefully chiseling a wing brace, his chest-brace hand drill to one side; Chase & Sanborn coffee cans in the Wrights’ compulsively neat 1902 kitchen. This is a remarkable book filled not only with hidden images but hidden treasures.

Stephan Wilkinson


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