Posted by: Lisa Hill | September 16, 2019

“The First Successful Trip of an Airship” in Gleanings in Bee Culture, January 1, 1905 by A. I. (Amos) Root

I have other things to do today, but I just had to share this Story of the Week from the Library of America…

A little over a hundred years ago, Amos Wright, editor of an obscure journal about beekeeping, wrote the first eyewitness account of a successful flight by the Wright Brothers.  If, like me, you still think that flying in an aeroplane is a miracle, you’ll love this story too.

Still, it was one of the grandest sights, if not the grandest sight, of my life. Imagine a locomotive that has left its track, and is climbing up in the air right toward you—a locomotive without any wheels, we will say, but with white wings instead, we will further say—a locomotive made of aluminium. Well, now, imagine this white locomotive, with wings that spread 20 feet each way, coming right toward you with a tremendous flap of its propellers, and you will have something like what I saw.

The first powered, controlled, sustained airplane flight in history. Orville Wright, age 32, is at the controls of the machine, lying prone on the lower wing with hips in the cradle which operated the wing-warping mechanism. His brother, Wilbur Wright, age 36, ran alongside to help balance the machine, having just released his hold on the forward upright of the right wing. The starting rail, the wing-rest, a coil box, and other items needed for flight preparation are visible behind the machine. (Orville Wright preset the camera and had John T. Daniels squeeze the rubber bulb, tripping the shutter.) (Wikipedia, public domain: This image was restored by User:Wright Stuf in November, 2018 using GIMP.)

Root had heard the rumours about the highly secret trials, but was still awestruck by what he happened upon at Huffman Prairie on 20th September 1904.   What he witnessed was the Wrights’ first time landing the plane at the same place they had started.  He knew he had witnessed history.

God in his great mercy has permitted me to be, at least somewhat, instrumental in ushering in and introducing to the great wide world an invention that may outrank the electric cars, the automobiles, and all other methods of travel, and one which may fairly take a place beside the telephone and wireless telegraphy.

He understood the need for secrecy. He himself had been mocked when he imported a velocipede (bicycle) and tried to learn to ride it in public.  He succeeded by mastering it (and the tricky business of turns) in a locked hall where there were no discouraging witnesses to his mistakes.

He was alert to the sceptical response to this event: Everybody is ready to say, “Well, what use is it? what good will it do?”

When Columbus discovered America he did not know what the outcome would be, and no one at that time knew; and I doubt if the wildest enthusiast caught a glimpse of what really did come from his discovery. In a like manner these two brothers have probably not even a faint glimpse of what their discovery is going to bring to the children of men. No one living can give a guess of what is coming along this line, much better than any one living could conjecture the final outcome of Columbus’ experiment when he pushed off through the trackless waters.

In his background to this momentous event, he humbly attributes the same factors that enabled their success to his own with beekeeping — self-education and hard work.

If I allude to myself somewhat, please do not think I do it because I wish to boast. Some of you have read or heard me tell of the time when my attention was first called to bees. Almost the first thing I did was to go to the bookstores and see what books were to be found on the subject. I studied these books day and night, and read them over and over again. Then I procured the books and bee-journals from the old world; and when the language was something I could not manage I hired an interpreter to translate for me until I knew pretty nearly what the book contained. In less than one year I was in touch with the progressive bee-keepers of the world; and the American Bee Journal, that had been dropped for lack of support, was started up again. I mention this to show you that my success in bee culture, from the very first, was not luck or chance. It was the result of untiring energy and work. Now let me draw a contrast. During the years that are past, quite a number of men have come to me with their patented hives. A good many of these men had never seen a bee-journal. Some of them who had paid out their hard earnings to the Patent Office had almost never seen a book on bee culture, and they were not sure, from actual experience, of the existence of the queen-bee. We have inventors at the present time who are giving their lives and money to the four winds in the same poor foolish way. If you wish to make a success of any thing, or in any line among the many lines that lie before us in this great world of ours, find out what the great and good men have done in this special line before you.

The introduction on the Library’s website gives credit to a third member of the trio: schoolmate Paul Lawrence Dunbar, who shared with the Wright brothers an obsession with learning and went on to become an internationally famous poet before dying young, at the age of only 33.  The only African-American in their class, he was no doubt also a role model who showed what determination could achieve.

Publishing details: “The First Successful Trip of an Airship”  from Gleanings in Bee Culture, January 1, 1905 by A. I. (Amos) Root (1839–1923), in Into the Blue: American Writers on Aviation and Spaceflight, edited by Joseph J Corn

You can read the entire article at the Story of the Week website (where you can also subscribe) or in the book (which #ssshhh I have just bought as a Christmas present for The Offspring who is a pilot).


Responses

  1. I’m so behind in my LoA reading!

    I like these little non-fiction historical pieces. And yes, like you, I still think flying is a miracle! I’m not sure I’ll ever fully understand it.

    It’s fascinating, isn’t it, how so few people really see the potential in something new. It happens again, and again, and again – and has taught me to never ask “what use it is or what good will it do”! The right question is “I wonder how we can use this in the service of humanity?”

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t always read them every week, only if they appeal.
      My favourite example of not seeing the potential was #NameSuppressed saying that he hadn’t reached the top of the promotion tree only to do his own typing, he had his own secretary thanks very much.
      And now? Just like everyone else, his fingers are on a keyboard all day long!

      Liked by 1 person

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