Artists in the Archive – In a Haystack

IN A HAYSTACK: Using only the search mechanisms available on loc.gov, find one item or collection of items and write a short ‘portrait’ of the object. What is it? How was it made? Who created it? How did it end up in the Library’s collection?

You can read my initial impressions of using the Library of Congress’ (LOC) site here.

Here is my portrait of one item in the LOC.

Letter from Wilbur Wright, of the Wright Brothers, to Octave Chanute.

This letter was the very first item I found. I couldn’t believe it. What a first sentence to read!

“Dear Sir; For some years I have been afflicted with the belief that flight is possible by man. My disease has increased in severity and I feel that it will soon cost me an increased amount of money if not my life.”

Wilbur Wright

Wilbur Wright, one of the ‘fathers of modern aviation,’ wrote this to Octave Chanute. Chanute was an aviation pioneer who supported the Wright brothers.

… I found this written correspondence because I thought the name “Octave Chanute” in the category of the letter “O” sounded interesting, when I was perusing the LOC’s Finding Aids.

At the time Wilbur Wright wrote the letter, he did not know Chanute. Wright is convincing Chanute that he knows enough about aviation to be taken seriously. The letter became one of many from the Wright Brothers kept by Chanute, despite the Wright brothers apparently keeping nothing.

Without these letters, we would know very little about the invention of the airplane by the Wright brothers. Chanute donated 10,121 items to the LOC.

The power of written correspondence is palpable in the LOC collections. Do emails today collect the same sentiments as written letters?

Also, this letter was written in 1900 — a nice round number! In 1900, the U.S. population was 75 million. Now it is 325 million. Ford Motors was founded three years later. The year before in 1899 the country’s first juvenile court was founded.

Helpfully, this item is listed as part of the American Memory category, which led me to this series “Today in History“.