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National Memorial
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The Original Airplane Exhibited

Orville always thought that the National Museum in Washington, administered by the Smithsonian Institution, was the logical place for the original Wright 1903 airplane to be preserved and exhibited. However, for a long time he was unwilling to entrust the airplane there because of a controversy between him and the Smithsonian in regard to the history of the invention of the airplane. In 1928, Orville lent the plane to the Science Museum at South Kensington, near London, England, with the understanding that it would stay there permanently unless he made a written request for its return. Finally, in 1942, the dispute with the Smithsonian was settled to Orville's satisfaction, and the next year he wrote a request to the Science Museum for the return of the airplane to this country when it could be safely shipped after World War II ended.

After Orville Wright's death, on January 30, 1948, his executors deposited the original 1903 airplane in the National Air Museum. It was formally placed on exhibition on December 17, 1948, in Washington, D.C., the 45th anniversary of the first flights. The priceless original airplane now occupies the highest place of honor among other interesting aeronautical exhibits.

aircraft flying over memorial shaft
Modern aircraft over the Wright memorial shaft depict a half century of aviation history.
Courtesy, North Carolina Department of Conservation and Development, Raleigh, N.C.

The National Memorial

On March 2, 1927, the Congress authorized the establishment of Kill Devil Hills Monument National Memorial to commemorate the Wrights' achievement of the first successful flight of a man-carrying, power-driven, heavier-than-air machine. The area was transferred from the War Department to the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, on August 10, 1933, and on December 1, 1953, the name was changed to Wright Brothers National Memorial. The memorial contains about 425 acres. It embraces the actual site of the first four flights and the sites of most of the glider experiments.


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