WRIGHT BROTHERS' FIRST COMPANY CHECK FOR THE WORLD'S FIRST MILITARY AIRCRAFT
THE BIRTH OF THE UNITED STATES AIR FORCE A historic aviation document of the greatest importance, the first check issued by the Wright Brothers as airplane manufacturers, signed by both ORVILLE WRIGHT (1871-1948) and WILBUR WRIGHT (1867-1912), a deposit made by them and submitted with their bid to supply the United States with the world's first military aircraft - which inevitably they did. The partly-printed check, 'No. 1' and the first to be drawn on the account, is dated January 27, 1908, at Dayton, Ohio. Drawing on the Winters National Bank, it makes a $2,500.00 payment to 'James Allen Chief Signal Officer'. At bottom, it is signed by Wilbur Wright as 'Wright Brothers' and further initialed 'W.W.' On the verso, the check is annotated and signed by Wilbur Wright 'Returned by James Allen, Chief Signal Officer. Wright Brothers' and initialed 'O.W.' The check in endorsed by a cashier across its face, and stamped as 'PAID' on the verso by the bank on February 29, 1908. A closed spindle hole at center, with a punch hole cancel very slightly affecting 'Brothers' on the face, else very good. The Wrights first contacted the U.S. government as a customer in 1905. Because they were reluctant to share any details of their airplane, and because the government had had bad experiences with earlier would-be aircraft inventors, initial discussions went nowhere. By late 1907, the U.S. Army showed renewed interest in the Wright Brothers' aircraft. Rather than directly offering them a contract, the Board of Ordnance and Fortification and the U.S. Signal Corps advertised for bids to construct an airplane as a prototype for a model to be ordered in quantity. However, the design and performance specifications were such that the Wrights were the only expected bidders. A price of $25,000 was set for the brothers' airplane if they could meet the performance criteria in actual flight trials. A ten percent deposit of the $25,000 bid was to be submitted by every bidder for the contract, and in preparation the Wrights restructured their company, changing its name from 'Wright Cycle Company' to 'Wright Brothers'. This check was the first drawn on the account. Surprisingly, 41 companies tendered bids, but the Wrights were the only ones who could supply a suitable aircraft. They were awarded two contracts for the first airplanes to be supplied to the United States Army, and their deposit check was returned (as Orville notes, though apparently paid). The first trials were held at Fort Myer, Virginia commencing Sep. 2, 1908. There were a number of successful flights, even exceeding the specifications requested by the Army, but marred by the death of Army Observer Lt. Thomas Selfridge, killed in a crash which severely injured pilot Orville Wright. Despite this disaster, the final acceptance of the historic aircraft was made on August 2, 1909. The aircraft was used to train pilots in the fall of 1909 and in 1910, then donated to the Smithsonian Institution in 1911 after the Army acquiring other aircraft. Designated Signal Corps No. 1 by the Army, it is generally referred to as the Wright Military Flyer and was the world's first military airplane. A vitally important historical document.