Katharine Wright

What we’re watching: The Mechanician

(Courtesy State University Archives)

The Wright Brothers didn’t do it alone.

Their sister, Katharine Wright, was an essential part of the team. She ran the brothers’ bicycle shop when they were off doing gliding tests in Kitty Hawk. And she was essential when it came to taking care of the Wright Brothers’ business and social matters.

And, without Charles E. Taylor, the Wright Brothers’ planes would have never gotten off the ground.

Taylor, a self-taught machinist, worked as a repair person in the bicycle shop. And it was Taylor who Orville and Wilbur turned to when they needed a wind tunnel to help them with improvements for the 1902 glider.

It was also Taylor who designed and built the first successful airplane engine for the Wright Brother’s first pioneering powered flight in 1903.  And it was Taylor who improved and fixed the engines for many years after.

Thanks to this story in the Metropolitan Airport News, we learned all about Charles E. Taylor. And about a short film that highlights his mostly forgotten role in aviation history and in the Wright Brothers’ story.

See the film, by Joshua Lang and Natalie Wong, below. Be sure to watch for the rare footage of Taylor describing how he created parts from scratch.

(Charlie Taylor at the Wright Company factory in 1911. Courtesy Wright State University Archives)

Hidden Treasures: Air & Space Museum and beyond

In my new book, Hidden Treasures: What Museum Can’t or Won’t Show You, I’ve included (of course) a few aviation-related items.

The folks at the Daily Planet, the Air & Space Museum’s blog, took notice and this week included a story about the book and the featured items from the museum’s collection.

They started with Katharine Wright’s knickers. The ones she likely wore beneath the lovely, white lace dress she chose to wear when she accompanied her brothers, Orville and Wilbur, to the White house to receive the Aero Club of America award. The dress and the knickers and a wide variety of other items relating to the history of women and aviation are at the International Women’s Air & Space Museum in Cleveland, Ohio.


The Daily Planet story also notes that Hidden Treasures features Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit. It was designed to withstand the trip to the moon and back, but wasn’t expected to last longer than six months on earth – so is now kept in a cold vault at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in northern Virginia.

Neil Armstrong's spacesuit. Courtesy National Air & Space Museum

Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit. Courtesy National Air & Space Museum

Other aviation-related items you may want to read about:

The metal detector that screened terrorists at the Portland, Maine, airport on the morning of September 11, 2001. That’s on display at the TSA Museum at TSA headquarters in Washington, D.C., which is only accessible to employees and invited guests.

A metal detector which screened hijackers on the morning of September 11th.

A metal detector which screened hijackers on the morning of September 11th.

And the manual Colton Harris-Moore – the Barefoot Bandit- purchased (likely with a stolen credit card) to teach himself how to fly after stealing – and crashing – a small plane.

barefoot bandit

Here’s another link the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum’s blog post about the items and here’s another link to the book: Hidden Treasures: What Museums Can’t or Won’t Show You

Museum Monday: Katharine Wright’s pantaloons

I’m racing to finish up the entries for my Hidden Museum Treasures book, which will feature the stories behind objects in museums that are rarely or never displayed.

When the project began, I put a call out seeking nominations from museums around the country. The International Women’s Air & Space Museum in Cleveland, Ohio was one of the first to respond with a hidden treasure that belonged to Katharine Wright.

Most people know the story of Orville and Wilbur Wright and their game-changing, 12-second airplane flight over Kitty Hawk, North Carolina on the morning of December 17, 1903.

Orville and Wilbur certainly deserve their place in aviation history, but they didn’t get there alone. Although she didn’t tinker with the planes, for many year’s Orville and Wilbur’s younger sister, Katharine, served as a sounding board, social secretary, housekeeper, marketing manager and ambassador for her brothers, making it possible for her notoriously shy brothers to attend to their aviation work full-time.

Sometimes referred to as “the third Wright Brother,” Wright’s story and her role in the birth and growth of aviation is among those told at the International Women’s Air & Space Museum, along with the stories of Amelia Earhart, Bessie Coleman, Harriet Quimby,  Jackie Cochran and many others.

Memorabilia in the Katherine Wright collection includes many items donated by the Wright family, including embroidered pillow cases, Limoges china, a strand of pearls and a lace dickey. “We even have postcards that ‘Aunt Katharine’ sent from Germany when ‘the boys’ were visiting with Count Zeppelin,” said collections manager Cris Takacs.

The museum also has the dress Katharine Wright wore when she accompanied her brothers to the White House on June 10, 1909 when they were presented the AreoClub of America gold award. Included with that dress are split-crotch knickers, or pantaloons, she likely wore underneath the dress that day.

The dress is displayed at the museum, but not the knickers. “As far as I know, they are the only knickers in our collection,” said Takacs. “I’m surprised the family would keep them and send them to us, but we have not displayed them because there are still some members of the Wright family around,” she said. “I don’t think it would be appropriate,” said a museum board member who helped put together the Katharine Wright exhibit.

Here they are:

And .. here’s the dress:

Photos courtesy the International Women’s Air & Space Museum.