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The Wright Story 

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n January 12, Orville and Katharine joined Wilbur in France. Orville had spent six weeks in the hospital in Washington, then Katharine escorted him back to Dayton for further convalescence. When he stepped off the boat in France, he was walking with two canes, but he was walking nonetheless. More important, he was glad to be reunited with his brother and to share some of the adulation in Europe.

As the weather had turned cold in Le Mans, Wilbur, Orville, Katharine moved their flying operations to Pau in southern France. Royalty, the rich, and other members of European high society followed them, mesmerized not just with the airplanes but with the Wright's poise and lack of affectation. The Wrights were less impressed with their camp followers. "Princes and millionaires are as thick as thieves," Wilbur wrote home.

Journalists and photographers also followed, and the Wrights were constantly in the news on both sides of the Atlantic. Even the people of Dayton, Ohio, who had been incredibly blasé about their native sons accomplishments finally began to take some interest. In mid-April a newsreel of Wilbur's flights in Le Mans made its rounds of the Dayton movie houses. Milton Wright saw his son for the first time in almost a year on the screen.

On April 1, 1909, the Wrights traveled to Centocelle, Italy (outside Rome) to train two pilots for the Italian army. The great and near-great followed them again, enthralled by their every flight. One of the people to see them fly in Italy was the American industrialist, J.P. Morgan. It was just a chance meeting, but it would have far-reaching consequences. Several months later, Morgan would make the Wrights an offer they couldn't refuse.

By the end of the month, the Wrights were reluctantly preparing to leave Europe. The outstanding contract with the U.S. Army was looming — the Wright had to get ready to fly before the summer's end. So they packed up and headed to England to tie up some loose ends. There they concluded a contract with the Short Brothers, English balloon manufacturers, to build six Wright aircraft for various customers outside the French syndicates purview. (One of these was Charles Rolls of Rolls-Royce — he became the first individual to purchase an airplane for his own private use.) After just two days in England, the Wrights boarded a ship for America and home.

1909 Orv and Kate shipboard.jpg (27825 bytes)
Orv and Kate with a young steward aboard a passenger ship bound for France.

1909 Hauling airplane.jpg (90367 bytes)
Transporting the Flyer from Le Mans to Pau.

1909 Wil & Orv testing the wind.jpg (79207 bytes)
Will tests the wind at Pau with Orv looking on.

1909 Will ties Kates skirt.jpg (57511 bytes)
Preparing to take Katharine for a ride, Will ties her skirt to keep it from being blown back. Afterwards, a notion would spread that this incident inspired the  "hobble skirt," but it was untrue.

1909 Kate and Will in Flyer.jpg (60966 bytes)
Wilbur and Katharine ready to fly.

1909 Kate and Orv with royalty.jpg (46928 bytes)
Katharine and Orville strolling with some European royalty at a flying field.

1909 Wilbur and countess.jpg (86262 bytes)
Wilbur with a countess.

1909 Royalty hoisting weights.jpg (44596 bytes)
European royalty helps pull the weight to the top of the derrick to cock the launch catapult.

A political cartoon shows European royalty swooning over Wilbur and the Flyer.

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The Wright Story/Showing the World/The Wrights Tour France and Italy

Part of a biography of the Wright Brothers


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