With the hindsight provided by 108 years, it would seem Orville and Wilbur Wright's first flight in Kitty Hawk, N.C., might have warranted a Page 1 banner headlines, but it rated just a one-column Page 3 headline in the Dec. 19, 1903, Tribune. Under the headline "Flying machine soars," the report declared the "box kite idea prevails, force coming from propellers worked by a small engine."
The newspaper's underwhelming response to this historic event may be better understood in light of the dozens of fantastic, so-called flying machines that had already been "invented":
The first of such reports, in August 1859, described a device under construction in Ohio that used a balloon for lift but a steam engine for locomotion. A 1877 device used multiple balloons and a series of fans that flapped like bird wings.
In 1890, an inventor in Washington state described an airship that would rely on the same principle as the screw, boring a hole in the air. A Mississippi inventor in 1871 tried attaching what sounded like a paddle-wheel structure, powered by a clock-work, to a balloon.
The Tribune's story on the Wrights summed up the attempt — and the age — this way: "It remains to be seen whether this flying machine will meet the fate of the many that have preceded it. But the contrivance is certainly ingenious and is worth seeing."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun