HISTORIAN'S CORNER - December, 2003
BY: Matt Grogan
December 17th is the 100th anniversary of the world's first manned, powered,and controlled flight by Orville and Wilbur Wright. I wanted to commemoratetheir feat in this column by exploring the relationship between the Wrightsand Glenn L. Martin. I am indebted to Stan Piet, the historian for the BaltimoreRetirees, and Professor Jack Breihan of Loyola University for their guidance.
The paths of the Wrights and GLM crossed several times in the period from1907 through 1918, primarily at the beginning and at the end of this period.After the Wright's first history-making flight on December 17, 1903, theirfame eventually grew throughout the world as they gave demonstrations oftheir Wright flyers. However, the Wrights were determined to protect theirinventions, and to that end obtained a patent in 1906 (No. 821,393) for theircontrol of flying machines, and formed the Wright Company in November 1909with WIbur as President. Their Company produced and sold about 100 aircraftbetween 1910 and 1915, at which point Orville sold his interest in the Company.Wilbur died in 1912, partially due to the stress of his efforts in protectingtheir patent in the US and Europe and in collecting royalties.
GLM had followed the Wright's exploits from the beginning and, in 1907, hesaw a flying machine which had been forced down in a pasture near Santa Ana,CA, where the 21 year-old GLM owned and operated an automobile repair garageand new car agency (Ref. 1, page 33). The flying machine was probably a versionof the Curtiss June Bug, although that is not clear from the references Ifound. After an unsuccessful attempt to fly a monoplane design that he built,he decided to build a biplane similar to the one he had seen in the SantaAna pasture and wrote to the Wrights asking if his concept infringed on theirwork. Orville responded that they had "no objection to your building a planeaccording to the design you have outlined to us," (Ref 1, page 37). GLM thenbuilt the biplane and first flew it successfully on August 1, 1909 (Ref 5,page 47)*. GLM entered into the aircraft business formally when he incorporatedhis Glenn L. Martin Company on August 24, 1912, in California at the ageof 26 and started to build aircraft in his small factory in Santa Ana. Sometimeduring this period, GLM wrote to the Wrights saying he was using their invention,but was not able to pay their license fee, and asked what amount they wouldbe willing to accept. The Wrights wrote back telling him not to worry aboutthe fee (Ref. 5, page 52) and GLM apparently maintained a friendly relationshipwith them over the years.
The Wrights' relationship with another pioneer aviator and businessman ofthe era, Glenn H. Curtiss, was not so amicable. In a letter written by Orvilleto Curtiss in July 1908, Curtiss was warned that his aircraft building activitiespotentially infringed on the Wright's patent (Ref. 4, Page 286 & Ref.6, Page 17). Indeed, in 1909, Curtiss formed a company with A. M. Herringto make or exhibit airplanes (Ref. 3, page 288). In August 1909, Wilbur fileda patent infringement lawsuit against him (Ref. 2, page 185). Wilbur contendedthat their patented concept of lateral control of flying machines by "wingwarping" also covered the Curtiss separate aileron concept (Ref. 6, Page17). After the US Court of Appeals finally adjudicated this suit in favorof the Wrights in January 1914, Curtiss again tried to circumvent the patentby using just one aileron at a time vs. two (Ref. 4, Page 401). The WrightCompany filed suit again against Curtiss and in 1915, Orville sold his interestin the Company, but not before all the evidence had been taken for the secondinfringement suit. This second case never came to trial because Curtiss wasable to drag out the proceedings with proposals of settlement. These negotiationscontinued until the US entered WWI, and , in April 1917, an Association wasformed for the cross licensing of manufacturers building flying machinesfor the US government. The Wright Company received royalties on all planesmanufactured for the US Government (Ref. 4, Page 402, 403), but the theirairplanes only accounted for about 34 of the 5206 airplanes ordered (Ref.3, Page 288).
In August 1916, GLM was persuaded to merge part of his company with the WrightCompany (Ref 5, Page 88) to from the anticipated war effort. Orville wasno longer active in the Company, having sold his interest in 1915. GLM'srole with the new Wright Martin Aircraft Company lasted only until 1918.It became clear to him that he would have little control over the fortunesof the new Company, and in fact had been relegated to manufacture a Frenchaircraft engine (The Hispano-Suiza) rather than aircraft, which were hisoverwhelming interest. He then formed the Glenn L. Martin Company, basedin Cleveland, Ohio, with the support of well-heeled investors (Ref. 1, Page83), to design and manufacture aircraft. . Thus ended the business relationshipbetween the Wrights and GLM although in 1943, Orville made his last flightin a Lockheeed Constellation!
In addition to the above commemoration, I wanted to let everyone know thatthere is a company supported project beginning to create a History of theTitan Program under the leadership of Paul Jones and Dick Yoshida. They haveestablished a web site (www.ast.imcottitanhistory) which volunteers can accessto provide data on the Titan, and they especially need help on the historyof launch sites. They plan to publish a DVD data base and a DVD with flightfootage, historical data, personal videos, etc. Please contact them on thisweb site.
1 . Harwood, William P., "Raise Heaven and Earth", 1993
2. Crouch, Tom & Jakab, Peter, , "The Wright Brothers", 1989
3. Hallion, Richard P., "Taking Flight", 2003
4. "Miracle at Kitty Hawk", The Letters of Wilbur and Orville Wright, editedby Fred C. Kelly, 1951
5. Biddle, Wayne, "Barons of the Sky", 1991
6. Portillo, Donald, "Pushing the Envelope", 1998
*This account by Harwood may be in error. According to Stan Piet, the firstdocumented GLM flight was in 1910.