Wednesday, March 31, 2010


When I came upon these images in the Smithsonian archive, I didn’t know if they were sculptures or experimental musical instruments. I did love their insect-like delicacy and the ethereal blue of the cyanotype. How was I supposed to know that they were meant to fly?

The Smithsonian houses an extensive archive of material relating to turn-of-the-century flight pioneer Samuel P. Langley and his sometimes-flying aerodromes. Langley, a renowned scientist, was affiliated with the Smithsonian for many years. His research received government funding and much public attention. The Smithsonian, in biographical material about Langley, states that he “almost succeeded with inventing the airplane before the Wright brothers.” But as the Smithsonian had much at stake in Langley’s success or failure, be sure to read elsewhere about the feud with the Wright Brothers and how even the Smithsonian didn’t succeed in rewriting history.

A houseboat in the Potomac served as a launching site for a number of doomed flight attempts.

Read more here, here, and here. Listen to an NPR piece here.

1 comment:

  1. Nimrod FartelcheaseMarch 31, 2010 at 7:37 PM

    Professor Langley's Aerodrome,
    deserves to have me pen a pome,
    it didn't fly, and that was the trouble,
    it crashed and became just another bubble,
    in the Potomac's grey-green greasy foam.


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