History by Contract: Early Aviation History for Sale at Smithsonian

NC.2ndIn 1948, The Smithsonian allowed Orville Wright’s estate to purchase a place in history, crediting the Wright Brothers as inventing and flying the first powered airplane – something we have been taught ever since. How did this occur? A behind-the-scenes “agreement” between the heirs of Orville Wright and the Smithsonian (United States Government) was signed, allowing the Smithsonian to obtain the coveted “Wright Flyer” as an exhibit, for $1. The Orville Wright heirs were allowed a tax credit. Everyone was happy. Except, of course, those taxpayers, educators, and history lovers who feel history should not be compromised for profit by the government’s “experts”. This is truly an embarrassment for the United States, whose name is on that document.

The “agreement”, which we shall refer to as “the Contract”, requires the Smithsonian to imply that Orville Wright was the first man in powered flight, and the Wright Flyer as “World’s First Power-Driven Heavier-Than-Air Machine in Which Man Made Free, Controlled, and Sustained Flight”, invented and Built by Wilbur and Orville Wright, Flown by Them at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, December 17, 1903…”

Oh, and one more detail (the devil is in the details, you see): if Smithsonian (or any of its nearly 200 affiliated museums or research facilities) breaks the Contract and recognizes that any other person or plane flew first … the Wright Flyer reverts to the heirs. Under certain conditions, Smithsonian may buy it back – and for far more than a dollar.

The Wright Flyer is one of their prime exhibits, a major money-maker. The Smithsonian prides itself on its expertise regarding the history of early aviation, including how the Wrights invented the airplane. Books are published by curators, the public streams in to Smithsonian, Kitty Hawk, and Dayton, OH to view the hallowed grounds and artifacts. It is an industry estimated to be in the many hundreds of millions, at least.

The Smithsonian-Wright Contract Revealed

The American public and the rest of the world knew nothing about the Contract which was denied and kept a secret for decades. Only a few Smithsonian insiders knew about it. However, Major William J. O’Dwyer, (US AF, ret.), an early aviation researcher who noticed something was very wrong at Smithsonian, obtained the help of Connecticut Senator Lowell Weicker. With Senator Weicker’s office assisting, the signed Contract was pried out of Smithsonian’s archives in 1976, using the Freedom of Information Act. The Contract was first published in 1978 in the book “History by Contract” by O’Dwyer and Randolph.

History by Contract by O'Dwyer and Randolph (1978)

History by Contract by O’Dwyer and Randolph (1978)

Recently, Fox News obtained the Contract, covered it in a story, and placed it on their website. Not surprisingly, Smithsonian has never published the Contract on any of its website pages or in any books.  There is even a very critical Fox News Blog on the Smithsonian-Wright Contract, by Jonathan Turley.

Smithsonian Defends the Contract

What is wrong with this picture? Since it was signed, Smithsonian curators have doggedly defended the Contract and its terms. This interferes with neutral historical inquiry. There is another strong contender – Gustave Whitehead, of Connecticut has been recognized as the first in powered flight, by Jane’s All The World Aircraft, a highly respected publisher, considered to be the world authority on aviation (in fact, called “the bible of aviation history”).

Gustave Whitehead First in Powered Flight 1901

Gustave Whitehead
First in Powered Flight 1901

Whitehead, reported to have flown on August 14, 1901 for the past hundred twelve years by journalists, witnesses, and researchers, cannot be recognized by Smithsonian – or the Flyer is lost to them. Naturally, the Smithsonian curators, defenders of the Contract, are, shall we say, not pleased by these recognitions, and have issued a statement providing excuses for why the Contract was signed, including this telling comment:

Critics have also charged that no Smithsonian staff member would ever be willing to entertain such a possibility and risk losing a national treasure. I can only hope that, should persuasive evidence for a prior flight be presented, my colleagues and I would have the courage and the honesty to admit the new evidence and risk the loss of the Wright Flyer.” (Tom Crouch, Head Curator)

We hope so too, Mr. Crouch, but we aren’t holding our breath! Courage and honesty have seemed to be in short demand at the Smithsonian, for a great deal of the past century.

Request for Nullification of the Contract

On March 25, 2013 Susan O’Dwyer Brinchman, research assistant to and daughter of William J. O’Dwyer, issued a “Letter of Demand to all 17 members of the Smithsonian Board of Regents to have the contract nullified, “as it creates bias and stifles inquiry, interfering with the Mission, Values, and Strategic Plan of the Smithsonian and its 200 affiliated museums and research facilities.[13][14] (Wikipedia)

To date, the answer of the Smithsonian Board of Regents has been silence. Complete silence. This tells us they approve of the Contract and think that the furor over its existence will disappear.

History has been compromised, by Contract, to obtain and keep a prized exhibit. Its very existence is a slap in the face to all Americans. This is plain corruption of the system that is supposed to provide truth about history. Shall this continue? To protest the Smithsonian-Wrights Contract and request its immediate revocation and nullification, click here for more info.

More about the Smithsonian-Wright Contract:

  1. Contract – Gustave Whitehead
  2. Photocopy (pdf) of the “Smithsonian-Wright Agreement of 1948″ on Fox News(Fox News, Apr.1, 2013)
  3. Smithsonian Releases Wright Brothers Contract detailing ‘first in flight’ claims (Fox News, J. Kaplan, Apr.1, 2013)
  4. To view the Contract as searchable text: http://www.historybycontract.com
  5. Smithsonian Affiliates covered by the Contract (forbidden to acknowledge any others who flew before the Wrights in 1903)
  6.  National Geographic Article on topic:   Wright Brothers Flight Legacy Hits New Turbulence (3 May 2013)
  7. Smithsonian asked to nullify Wright Brothers first in flight
  8. Letter demands Smithsonian bury flyer contract
  9. A letter of request that you can send with signatures to have Smithsonian-Wright Contract nullified
  10. Could Wright brothers, N.C. lose ‘first in flight’ stature? – USA Today
  11. Sources for purchasing used copies of “History by Contract” (the book, which is out of print): eBay, Alibris.com, abebooks.com, amazon.com
  12. Tom Crouch, Smithsonian, Senior Curator (contact him to request copy of contract and for nullification)
  13. Members of the Smithsonian Board of Regents who administrate Smithsonian and thus, are allowing the Contract to continue:

The members of the Board of Regents are:

More About Gustave Whitehead:

  1. Megan Adam’s website (Whitehead descendant) : http://www.gustavewhitehead.org/
  2. John Brown’s website: http://www.gustave-whitehead.org
  3. Open letter to Tom Crouch (Smithsonian Senior Curator) by John Brown (March, 2013)
  4. Gustave Whitehead and the First-Flight Controversy – History Net
  5. Could Wright brothers, N.C. lose ‘first in flight’ stature? – USA Today
  6. “The Who Flew First Debate”, archived article from Flight Journal by William J. O’Dwyer
  7. Wright brothers flew 2 years after Gustav Whitehead, researcher claims
  8. Historian Propels Connecticut To Claim ‘First In Flight’ : NPR
  9. For the Whitehead believers, a long road to recognition
  10. First in flight
  11. Museums:
    1. Gustav Weisskopf Museum, Leutershausen, Germany
    2. Fairfield Museum, Fairfield, CT (call ahead to find out when Whitehead exhibit will be shown)
    3. CT Air and Space Center, Stratford, CT (has replica of #21 Whitehead plane that flies)
  12. Archives:

The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic. (John F. Kennedy)


We have been fed a myth about who was first in flight!

Copyright S. Brinchman 2013