It is hard to say good things about a man whose actions, deliberate and motivated by greed, contributed significantly to the death of a fine and honorable man, Wilbur Wright. Curtiss did not, of course, deliberately try to harm Wilbur, but his actions had that unintended consequence.
Having said that, it is important to recognize that Curtiss made several important contributions to the world of aviation that helped transform the airplane from an interesting novelty to a craft capable of doing useful work.
Two of his direct contributions to the world of aviation include advanced engines and the hydroaeroplane. Curtiss developed great airplane engines -- lightweight, reliable, and powerful. Curtiss also solved the problem of finding a way to make takeoffs from water. Although hydroaeroplanes are unusual at this time, they were a significant contribution at a time when paved runways were almost nonexistent.
The companies that Curtiss headed made several other important contributions to aviation, including the development of the first airplanes that crossed the Atlantic ocean. Curtiss certainly played a role in the development of these planes, but cannot be given sole credit for their development. Indeed, my reading of the matter is that he played a relatively minor role in many of the inventions and developments produced by his company. To his credit, Curtiss was an effective manager, knew how to get the best out of his men, and was not afraid to adopt advances made elsewhere.
Having said all that, I find his behavior toward the Wrights quite reprehensible, as were the actions of the rest of the A.E.A. It will take me a while to set the story out in full, but I believe there is good evidence to support my harsh judgment of him: "Thief, liar, speed demon."
People who wish to hear the other side of the story might want to look at C. R. Roseberry's book: Glenn Curtiss, Pioneer of Flight. Roseberry goes to considerable lengths to transform Curtiss from sinner to Saint, and exploits every opportunity to villify the Wright brothers, so between the two of us, you can at least get both sides of the story.
|The Wright Brothers Page: Wilbur and Orville Wright|
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Written by Gary Bradshaw.
This page created 4/21/96 by webmaster Steve Wright.