The Wright Sister

The Wright Brothers are American heroes—to the point where Ohio and North Carolina have feuded for decades about which state is the “birthplace of aviation.” Orville and Wilbur Wright will forever be remembered as the inventors who put man in the sky, but they might never have achieved that first successful airplane flight on December 17, 1903 without the help of their younger sister, Katharine. Early funding for the Wrights’ experiments came from the bicycle shop, which Katharine managed, and her income from teaching helped supplement her brothers’ research. Whereas the Wright Brothers were shy, Katharine was outgoing and confident. She helped negotiate a one-year extension with the U.S. Signal Corps, and she learned French in order to speak with European dignitaries on her brothers’ behalf. She was awarded the Legion d’honneur (the highest French order of merit), making her one of the few American women in history to receive it.

Fly Boy

At 14, Cromwell Dixon was dubbed “the youngest aeronaut in the world” when he won the 1907 International Balloon Race in his homemade dirigible. At 18, he earned his air pilot license (the 43rd to be issued for heavier-than-air craft) and performed in the 1911 Montana Fair at Helena. That same month, Dixon flew from Helena to Blossburg, becoming the first aviator to
fly across the Continental Divide. He died just two days later in a biplane crash at the Spokane Interstate Fair. His headstone in Columbus, Ohio reads, “Cromwell Dixon, World’s Youngest Aviator, Loved By All.”

Show in the Sky

Early aviation thrilled Montanans. “Bird men” raced against cars at Montana fairgrounds. Stunt pilots performed death-defying feats before Montana spectators. At the 1910 Montana State Fair in Helena, J.C. Mars dazzled crowds with his “circular dip.” He flew three times a day, and crashed three times that week.