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Determining the Facts

Document 1: Excerpt from Orville Wright's Diary, December 17, 1903

When we got up a wind of between 20 and 25 miles was blowing from the north. We got the machine out early and put out the signal for the men at the station. Before we were quite ready, John T. Daniels, W.S. Dough, A.D. Etheridge, W.C. Brinkley of Manteo, and Johnny Moore of Nags Head arrived. After running the engine and propellers a few minutes to get them in working order, I got on the machine at 10:35 for the first trial. The wind, according to our anemometers at this time, was blowing a little over 20 miles (corrected) 27 according to the Government anemometer at Kitty Hawk. On slipping the rope the machine started off increasing in speed to probably 7 or 8 miles. The machine lifted from the truck just as it was entering on the fourth rail. Mr. Daniels took a picture just as it left the tracks. I found the control of the front rudder quite difficult on account of its being balanced too near the center and thus had a tendency to turn itself when started so that the rudder was turned too far on one side and then too far on the other. As a result the machine would rise suddenly to about 10 ft. and then as suddenly, on turning the rudder, dart for the ground. A sudden dart when out about 100 feet from the end of the tracks ended the flight.

Questions for Document 1

1. What new details does Orville's diary account give you about the first flight? What problems did he encounter?

2. How would you describe the language Orville used in his diary? Is it what you would have expected considering the significance of the event? Explain your answer.

3. Based on the context of the quote, what is an anemometer? Why would this instrument have been important to the Wright brothers?

4. The Wrights meticulously recorded their experiences both in writings and photographs. Why would this be important both to their contemporaries and to historians and scientists today?

Document 1 courtesy of the Library of Congress, Wilbur and Orville Wright Collection.

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