I heard that there was a person who was sponsored by the government to make the first flying airplane. The Wright brothers beat him to it and this made him really depressed and he gave up his career.

Who was he? his name?

Thank you. /Google didnt help me much

6 Answers 6


The Smithsonian lists a couple of competitors including Samuel P. Langley, and Sir Hiram Maxim. Wikipedia has a reference to competing claims.

Langley was paid by the government; he may be the individual you're remembering, although I can't immediately find any evidence of the depression.

  • good sources :) Mar 28, 2013 at 12:52
  • Langley and the Smithsonian claimed for some time that he had achieved flight before the Wright brothers... that makes it improbable that he was the individual who succumbed to depression.
    – MCW
    Jan 10, 2016 at 1:51

In Hungary there was an article about this, but I am not sure you are looking for him. I remembered his name, here is wiki, it should be a good point to start. The name is Gustav Weisskopf or Gustave Whitehead depends which language you read.


Another of the fore-runners was Clement Ader in France, who probably did achieve steam-powered flight before the Wrights - but only just.

He also relayed operas in stereo before 1900.

  • There are plenty of claims that someone achieved first powered flight before the Wrights did (Whitehead for example), but they all lack the picture and the newspaper reports.
    – jjack
    Apr 16, 2015 at 9:34
  • Whitehead was already mentioned in another answer; Ader had not been; Langley was the obvious favourite. If you know of any not yet mentioned, feel free to add them in a comment or another answer. Apr 16, 2015 at 9:46
  • The other first in powered flight sufficient proof to my knowledge. I thus don't want to add another name.
    – jjack
    Apr 16, 2015 at 9:51

Who were the Wright brothers' competitors?
I heard that there was a person who was sponsored by the government to make the first flying airplane. The Wright brothers beat him to it and this made him really depressed and he gave up his career.

Who was he? his name?

Short Answer:

You are thinking of Sammuel Perpoint Langley and mis-remembering a few of the facts. Yes Langley who was the secretary of the Smithsonian beat out the Wright Brothers for a grant from the Dept of War in 1898, however; Langley died February 27, 1906 a few months before The Wright Brothers were awarded their patent May 22, 1906 and their achievements in avionics became common knowledge. The Wright brothers were exceptionally disciplined and shunned all publicity prior to being awarded their patent. So Langley would not have been aware of the Wright Brother's success in Feb of 1906, nobody was.

The Wright Brothers competitors fall into three categories.. Those coming before and after their patent and those who have harassed the Wright's place in history into the 21 century. In all three of these categories their top antagonists / competitor was Samuel Perpoint Langley and by proxy the Smithsonian Institute. After having been awarded their patent the Wright's greatest competitor was Glen Curtis who aligned with the Smithsonian to leveraged Perpoint's work in an unsuccessful attempt to invalidate the Wrights patent beginning in 1914 and obliterate the Wright's place in history. Glen Curtis who's company eventually purchased the Wright's company in 1929 to create the Curtis-Wright Corporation in 1929.

Detailed Answer
The Wright brothers were very secretive. They developed their technology clandestinely and even while others, years behind them in capability claimed world records and accolades in flight for distance, time, and speed the Wright brothers remained silent. It was not until after the Wright brothers were awarded a patent (May 22, 1906) that they went public and demonstrated how far beyond their contemporary aeronautic competitors they were.


  • In December 1902 a Wright brothers built glider flew 600 feet. A World Record but they didn't publish it.
  • December 17, 1903 The Wright built the first successful powered airplane and Wilbur Wright flew 852 feet (260 m) in 59 seconds a World Record. but they didn't publish it.
  • October 5, 1905 Wilbur Wright flew for 39 minutes and a total distance of 24 1/2 miles. a World Record in what is called today “The world’s first practical airplane” A newspaper picked up the story and the Wrights didn't fly again for two years to avoid publicity.
  • WHAT'S GOING ON IN EUROPE? In 1906, the Brazilian Alberto Santos-Dumont set the first world record(**) recognized by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale of France by flying 220 meters (720 ft) in 21.5 seconds. more than 4 years behind the Wrights.

  • Wright Flights Are Publicly Disclosed in 1906 after they are awarded their Patent.

  • According to the April 1907 issue of the Scientific American magazine the Wright brothers had the most advanced knowledge of heavier-than-air navigation at the time.

    • September 9, 1908 from the United Press.

      The Wright aeroplane, operated by the aviator, whose brother Wilbur has been conducting successful tests in France, sailed today over and around the parade ground at Fort Myer, Va., for 57 minutes and 31 seconds, exceeding by more than 26 minutes the world-breaking record made last Monday by Delagrange, near Paris.

    ** Although the Wright Brothers were setting and breaking world records from 1902-1908, they did not publish these records. So nobody in Europe would be aware of what they were doing.

As such the Wright Brothers competitors fall into three categories. Those who were in competition with the Wrights prior to being granted a patent, those were competed with the Wrights after the Wrights got their patent, and those who challenge the Wright's legacy as first in powered flight to this day. The man who falls into all three of these categories is Samuel Pierpoint Langley, the third secretary of the Smithsonian Institute who's publicly funded organization has continued a vendetta against the Wrights into the 21st century.

Prior to being awarded their patent by far Samuel Pierpont Langley was the Wright's greatest competitor. While the Wright brothers were two self taught engineers who professionally supported themselves by manufacturing, repairing, and selling bicycles Samuel Pierpoint Langley was a famous scientist (astronomer), professor and the secretary of the Smithsonian Institute. In 1898 Langley relying on his scientific credentials and prestige of his office would defeat the Wright brothers in a competition for a $50,000 research Grant from the U.S. War Dept.

Samuel Pierpoint Langley produced an early unmanned powered airplane he dubbed the Arodrome. (Wind Runner)... Based on these models he was financed by the US War Dept to create a manned version of his plane. Langley's series of airodromes were lanched by catapult on the Potomac river, and while he had no way to steering and all of his manned and unmanned launches ended in crashes Pierpoint langley claimed the title of first powered flight, and has been recognized in that conspicuously by the Smithsonian Institute which Pierpoint ran.

from the Smithsonian Samuel P. Langley: Aviation Pioneer

After the Wrights were awarded their patent Glen Curtis who would be sued by the Wrights for stealing their technology would on behest of the Smithsonian Institute would try to leverage Langley's earlier work in contesting the Wrights Patent.

The Wright's Smithsonian Feud
Glenn Curtiss and the Langley Aerodrome. Orville Wright's concerns deepened in 1914 (Wilbur died in 1912) when the Smithsonian contracted aeronautical experimenter and aircraft manufacturer Glenn Curtiss to rebuild Langley's unsuccessful 1903 full-size airplane, the Great Aerodrome, which crashed for the second time just nine days before the Wrights' success at Kitty Hawk.
Immersed in bitter patent infringement litigation with the Wrights for years, Curtiss recognized that the Smithsonian's desire to tout the aeronautical achievements of Langley could serve his own interests. A partnership was formed and the Smithsonian issued a $2,000 contract to Curtiss to rebuild and test the Langley Aerodrome.
After completely rebuilding the Langley Aerodrome with extensive modifications and a different engine, Curtiss did manage to make brief, straight-line hops with it. The aircraft was then returned to the Smithsonian, restored to its failed 1903 configuration, and displayed with a label stating that it was the "first man-carrying aeroplane in the history of the world capable of sustained free flight." Orville was outraged.


Gustave Whitehead
For many years the Smithsonian Institution did not formally recognize the 1903 Wright Flyer as first in flight. Instead, it proclaimed the Langley Aerodrome as first to be "capable" of manned powered flight. This policy offended the surviving Wright brother, Orville, who sent the Wright Flyer to the Science Museum in London on long-term loan, rather than donate it to the Smithsonian.[63] In 1942 the Smithsonian publicly recanted its position, and Orville agreed to bring back the Flyer.

As a condition for receiving the airplane, the Smithsonian signed an agreement in 1948 with executors of Orville Wright's estate. Popularly called a "contract," the agreement required the Smithsonian to recognize only the 1903 Wright Flyer, and no other aircraft, as first to make a manned, powered, controlled flight. The agreement, which was not made public, allowed the Wright family to reclaim the Flyer if the Smithsonian failed to comply.[63][Note 2]

In 1975, O'Dwyer learned about the agreement from Harold S. Miller, an executor of the Orville Wright estate.[41] O'Dwyer obtained release of the document with help from Connecticut U.S. Senator Lowell Weicker and the U.S. Freedom of Information Act.[41] O'Dwyer said that during an earlier 1969 conversation with Paul E. Garber, a Smithsonian curator of early aircraft, Garber denied that a contract existed and said he "could never agree to such a thing."[41]

According to the Smithsonian, the agreement was implemented to close the long-running feud with the Wright family over the Institution's false claims for the Aerodrome. Brinchman documented that Gardner and Findley, who helped Orville rebut the Whitehead claims, also participated in crafting text in the agreement that the Institution is required to use in its labeling of the Wright Flyer.[95]

Also See

Before the Smithsonian was to open it's Air and Space Museum in Washington DC, it declared its intention to hang the Langley Aerodrome, The Wright Family under the 1942 agreement threatened to reclaim the Wright Flyer and hang it in the Wright Brother's Museum in Kitty Hawk North Carolina. The Smithsonian recanted and did not hang the Aerodrome.

When the Smithsonian opened the Udvar Hazy Center. Dec 15, 2003, They hung the Samuel Pierpoint Langley Aerodrome where it still is hung today, underneath the plane, on the elivated walkway in 2003, was a small bronze plaque which read. "First Powered Flight". I haven't been back for a few years, but every time I go I look for that plaque and try to tell at least one museum guest the controversy.


Look up Glenn Curtiss . . . he was definitely a competitor and hugely influential on the Wright brother's story. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glenn_Curtiss

  • 5
    Please summarize the relevant features of the article in the answer. We want to guard against both link-rot and spam.
    – MCW
    Mar 6, 2016 at 1:52

The first four competitors of the Wright brothers are:

  • Santos Dumont – September 13, 1906, 8:40 AM; Bagatelle, France: flight of 4-7 meters at a height of 50-70 cm and a speed of 30-35 km/h. (Aérophile, “Les grandes journées de l’aviation. L’essor de Santos-Dumont. Pour la première fois, un aéroplane à moteur monté prend son vol librement.”, L’Auto, Paris, September 14, 1906, col. 5-6, p. 1)

  • Traian Vuia – October 7, 1906; Issy-les-Moulineaux, France: 4 meters in 2/5 sec at a height of 15 cm. (Aérophile, “Une belle expérience d’aviation. Hier matin à Issy-les-Moulineaux, l’Aéroplane automobile de M. Vuia a réussi à s’enlever par les seuls moyens du bord en expériences publiques et contrôlées.”, L’Auto, Paris, October 8, 1906, col. 3-4, p. 5)

  • Charles Voisin – March 16, 1907, 3:04 PM; Bagatelle: 10 meters. (“Une belle expérience d’aviation. L’Aeroplane Delagrange s’est enlevé hier à Bagatelle.”, L’Auto, Paris, March 17, 1907, col. 6, p. 5 and col. 1, p. 7)

  • Louise Blériot – April 5, 1907, 9 AM; Bagatelle: 5-6 meters at 60 cm. (“Aeroplanes d’hier et d’aujourd’hui”, L’Auto, Paris, April 6, 1907, col. 5, p. 5)

Source: "The Wright brothers’ patents and their low importance for aviation", by Bogdan Lazar (the book is free)

The Wright brothers’ patents and their low importance for aviation", by Bogdan Lazar

Except gliders, the Wright brothers did not show anything (any airplane) before August 8, 1908.

  • 1
    Bogdan Lazar does not seem to be an objective source. Feb 21, 2020 at 0:41
  • What does an objective source look like? All the quoted articles can be found in the French newspaper L'Auto in numbers that appeared just the next day after each of the four flights. They are primary sources. One can not go further than this. Even the names of the witnesses (most of them aeronauts) are given.
    – Simplex11
    Feb 21, 2020 at 0:52
  • An objective source should not discard evidence (photos, witnesses), or discount it on flimsy grounds. Lazar is disputing that the Wright brothers flew in 1903. I don't claim to be an expert, but it seems that he has an agenda. Feb 21, 2020 at 0:57
  • The only independent witness of the Wrights, as Orville W., himself stated, was Amos Root from Medina, Ohio. In a Jan 1905, article, he claimed he had seen W. Wright flying in a circuit on September 20, 1904. In reality, he did not see any Wright machine flying till August 29, 1910. There is an extensive book by the same author (see: wright1903dec17.altervista.org/…) that quotes in full all the letters and articles written by Root and there exist no convincing evidence he really witnessed Wilbur in 1904.
    – Simplex11
    Feb 21, 2020 at 1:10
  • 2
    There were 5 witnesses to the Dec 17, 1903 flights. You might want to have a look at the Wiki article Wright brothers. It cites lots of sources and also covers the skeptics. Feb 21, 2020 at 1:20

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