David Fairchild and Early Flight

100 years ago –

David and Marian and the fantastic flying machine

Glenn Curtiss at the wheel of the June Bug

The world was rapidly changing 100 years ago – and David and Marian Fairchild were in the midst of it all. In contrast to his earlier years with the USDA, David Fairchild was not traveling around the world collecting plants. Instead, he was at home in Washington DC with his young family (he and Marian already had one child), coping with the rapidly expanding responsibilities of the plant introduction section of the USDA and the plants that were flooding in from all parts of the globe.






Orville Wright, in white cap, inspects the design of the June bug



Bell's experimental tetrahedral wing pictured at his laboratory in Baddeck, Nova Scotia

But it wasn't all about plants. He and Marian still found time for plenty of other activities. One of their biggest passions was flight. Alexander Graham Bell, Marian's father, was an avid supporter of flight. The Wright Brothers had already proven that flight was possible with their brief flight at Kitty Hawk, and now the Aero Club and Scientific American were offering a prize for anyone who could fly at least a kilometer in a straight line. Competition was fierce, and excitement was high. Glenn Curtiss planned an attempt at Hammondsport, NY with his fragile little 'June Bug' machine. Bell sent David and Marian to watch and record the activities.

While the weather was not perfect, the June Bug and Curtiss performed amazingly well, winning the prize and leaving no doubt that the skies would no longer be the sole domain of the birds.







An historic picture, snapped by David, as the June Bug sailed over the potato field.

"In spite of all I had read and heard, and all the photographs I had seen – the actual sight of a man flying past me through the air was thrilling to a degree that I can't express. We all lost our heads and David shouted and I cried and everyone cheered and clapped and engines tooted." – from text of a letter written by Marian Fairchild to her father, July 6, 1908

For a taste of the excitement of the day, read the full text of Mrs. Fairchild's letter to Dr. Bell written the following day