Wright Brothers Camp

Wright Brothers National Memorial

Wrights' Camp in distance, 1908
Wrights' Camp in distance, 1908

Wilbur and Orville Wright

Quick Facts

Location:
Kitty Hawk, North Carolina
Significance:
Location of Wright Brothers' flying experiments
OPEN TO PUBLIC:
No

When the Wright brothers first came to the Outer Banks in the autumn of 1900, they stayed with local resident William Tate and his family. They used the Kill Devil Hills area toward the end of their first season, following earlier experiments on Lookout Hill just south of the village of Kitty Hawk. Their first season consisted of only two days of work at the Kill Devil Hills site: October 19th, when they chose not to fly because of high winds, and October 20th, when they made several successful glider flights.

They returned to the Kill Devil Hills site in 1901, this time pitching a tent about 1,000 feet east of the higher hill and building a rudimentary shed to use as a workshop. They again returned to the workshop for the 1902 season and, together with Kitty Hawk resident Dan Tate, rebuilt the dilapidated shed, adding an additional 10 feet to use as a quarters, the brothers being tired of tent living. Orville penned, “Trying to camp down here reminds me constantly of those poor arctic explorers.” During their initial time living in a tent, they would have to hold the tent down during the night to keep it from blowing away; as summer turned to fall and winter, the winds grew colder.  

In 1903, when they began their powered flight experiments, the Wrights made further improvements to the quarters and also built a second frame shed, measuring about 44 by 16 feet, to hold the aircraft and serve as a sheltered work area. Located a few feet west of the camp building, it is clearly indicated in the Wrights' photographs taken that year.

Although the weather conditions made for excellent flying, the living situation was subpar. The Wrights often stayed on the Outer Banks in late-summer and Autumn from 1900-1903, sending home letters that described the conditions they faced. In particular, they hated the mosquitos. In a letter from Orville to his sister Katharine, he wrote, “Lumps began swelling up all over my body like hen’s eggs.” They would cover themselves with blankets, but when they got too hot, they had to unwrap for a minute, exposing themselves to the ubiquitous mosquito swarms. Despite these hardships, the brothers pressed on with their flying experiments.   

The quarters building and the hangar rapidly deteriorated after the departure of the Wright brothers in December 1903. In the spring of 1908, when the Wrights returned to the site to test their modified 1905 Flyer, both buildings needed significant repairs. John Daniels, one of the Kitty Hawk lifesavers who witnessed their earlier flight efforts, convinced Wilbur to purchase materials to repair the site. The sides of both buildings remained, but the roof of the old quarters was missing entirely and the interior was covered with sand. Wilbur hired two "semi-carpenters" to help make repairs and rebuild the structures. 

Orville reused the buildings in 1911, though again with modifications. Following the 1911 season, the brothers abandoned the site, and the effects of wind, sand, and weather eventually destroyed the buildings. In 1928, when the National Aeronautics Association placed the first commemorative marker at the site of the first flight, little remained of the structures on which to base the location of takeoff (the location was ultimately established by the surviving witnesses). Currently there are reconstructions of these buildings located on site.