Birdmen: The Wright Brothers, Glenn Curtiss, and the Battle to Control the Skies by Lawrence Goldstone
Genre: Non Fiction
Publication Date: 2014
Source: Copy provided by the publisher
The Short Version:
A history of the early years of aviation beyond the Wright Brothers and Kitty Hawk.
Why I Read It:
When I heard about this book it sounded interesting. I knew a bit about the Wright brothers but not much about the other early pioneers of aviation.
From the publisher:
The feud between this nation’s great air pioneers, the Wright brothers and Glenn Curtiss, was a collision of unyielding and profoundly American personalities. On one side, a pair of tenacious siblings who together had solved the centuries-old riddle of powered, heavier-than-air flight. On the other, an audacious motorcycle racer whose innovative aircraft became synonymous in the public mind with death-defying stunts. For more than a decade, they battled each other in court, at air shows, and in the newspapers. The outcome of this contest of wills would shape the course of aviation history—and take a fearsome toll on the men involved.
I enjoyed this one. I knew the basics about the Wright brothers and the name Glenn Curtiss was familiar but I really didn’t know anything about their years long battles in the courts and in the eyes of the general public.
After Kitty Hawk the Wrights seemed to spend more time trying to protect what they saw as a very broad interpretation of the patent application they filed. They used the court system to claim royalties they felt other aviation pioneers owed them. In their eyes every plane that existed or flew owed them licensing and royalties.
On the other hand it was a time of rapid innovation and a large number of other inventors and daredevils were experimenting with aircraft and expanding the limits of flight. While the Wrights sought to protect what they’d done, these other people were developing their own methods and machines. Whether or not any of them really borrowed or stole ideas from any others may never be known.
The battles over the next decade took place in courtrooms as much as it did in the air over exhibitions and daring airshows. In the end the patent wars probably slowed down the development of aircraft and aviation but by the time World War I began the military became the primary driver of aircraft development.
I enjoyed learning about the early aviators and the near insane daredevils that risked (and lost) their lives to extending the limits of flying.