Only a small handful of scientific achievements have captured the world's imagination like the achievement of the first powered, heavier-than-air flight by the Wright Brothers, Wilbur and Orville Wright. The race towards this goal by inventors around the world was reflected in and anticipated by newsstand fiction throughout the 1890s. And after those initial historic moments in 1903, it was soon time to show the world… that the world was about to change. This issue of Le Rire #292 from September 5, 1908, in Paris captures the world's astonishment in a single, humorous image.
The Issue is a regular column about vintage comics and other vintage periodicals from throughout world history. The idea behind The Issue is simple: for each post, I'll choose something from my collection and talk about what's going on in it, and discuss the publishers and creators behind it. And essentially, I'm just going to end up stepping through comics history one issue at a time. There is only one rule in The Issue: No recent stuff. Everything will be from before 1940, and most of it will be from before 1920.
The Wright Brothers Unveil Their Flying Machine to the World
Wilber and Orville Wright were initially reluctant to show the public at large their invention for fear of being copied, so they spent years after that fateful 1903 moment improving their initial invention into a practical flying machine in relative seclusion. By 1905, they had achieved a flight of nearly 40 minutes and 25 miles. On May 22, 1906, the U.S. Patent Office granted the Wright Brothers patent No. 821,393 for a flying machine. By the next year, they were negotiating with the U.S. Signal Corps to supply them with a flying machine for military purposes.
In 1908, with patent and contracts in hand, it was time for the Wright Brothers to show the world what they had. While other inventors were starting to demonstrate flying machines in front of audiences, 1908 was still the Wright Brothers' moment to shine, and fly. Wilbur Brothers mechanic Charles Furnas became the first-ever passenger on a flight on May 14 that year.
Wilbur Wright then traveled to Europe for the public debut of his and his brother's creation. On August 8, 1908, Wilbur Wright made his first flight at Le Mans, France, in front of spectators at the Hunaudieres racecourse. Air and Space Magazine's overview from recent years captures the power of the moment:
The excitement peaked on August 8, 1908, when Wilbur Wright made his first flight in public at the Hunaudieres race course, five miles south of Le Mans, France. Over the next several weeks he made headlines around the world with one stunning flight after another—demonstrating once and for all that the Wrights' claim to priority in the invention of the airplane was true (there had been skeptics), and that their airplanes were capable of tight turns and a degree of control impossible with other machines.
The stunned crowd responded to that moment and also reacted to Wilbur Wright. The term "aviator" comes from the French "aviateur," beginning in the late 1880s. The title of Charles-Lucien Leandre's cartoon on Paris comic paper Le Rire's cover from the month after the flight is "L'Aviateur Wright", with Wilbur Wright appropriately caricatured as a new kind of man indeed: a man who could fly.