A brief introduction to the (non-existent) British Pathé footage of the Wright Brothers’ First Flight.
There has been a bit of confusion over the years regarding British Pathé’s collection of Wright Brothers footage. The famous siblings flew successfully for the first time 110 years ago this month (on 17 December 1903). Sadly, only photographs exist to document this historic achievement.
However, this didn’t stop British Pathé from cheekily claiming in a film to have footage from 1903. A newsreel released in 1927 purports to take the viewer “back to 1903 to see one of Wilbur Wright’s first flights”. This may not be a deliberate deception – the text does say “one of Wilbur Wright’s first flights” – but the footage has nevertheless been lifted from another newsreel which, according to the contemporary captions in the film itself, was shot on 18 December 1908. (The similarities in the dates of the two flights probably haven’t helped here either.) The film features some really great shots of the plane being prepared prior to take off as well as the flight itself. You can view it here.
The mistake happened again in the 1990s when the BBC/British Pathé series A Day That Shook The World chronicled the “Wright Brothers’ First Flight”, again making use of the 1908 material. The intentions were probably more honest than in 1927 and it is likely to be a genuine error based on a long history of errors! (You can judge for yourself here).
But footage or no footage, the Wright Brothers’ maiden flight was a landmark in the history of human progress which deserves celebration and any filmed document of the siblings’ achievements should be cherished.
The archive also contains a German retrospective on a 1909 Wright Brothers flight in Berlin and a 1912 acrobatic display by the siblings in St. Louis, attended by Teddy Roosevelt.
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