The Wright Brothers first took to the skies the same year. The New York Times published an editorial speculating that it would take between 1 and 10 million years to develop a successful flying machine.
For years, social media posts have claimed that the Wright Brothers first took to the skies the same year. The New York Times published an article about how it might take 10 million years to develop a successful flying machine. The brothers are credited with inventing the airplane and achieving the first airplane flight in 1903.
The alleged time between the publication of the Times article and the Wright brothers’ flight varied depending on the position in question. The first notable post we found related to the claim was a TikTok video from September 7, 2021. It was posted by Cleo Abram, a video journalist who previously worked for Vox. As of the publication date of this fact check, it had been viewed over 100,000:
In the video, Abram said two months passed between the article’s publication and the Wright brothers’ flight.
The topic re-emerged in May 2023, when a Twitter post claimed the time between the article’s publication and the theft was nine days. “An article published by the New York Times dated December 8, 1903,” it said. “9 days later, the Wright brothers made their first flight.”
An article published by the New York Times dated December 8, 1903
9 days later, the Wright brothers made their first flight. pic.twitter.com/U64XJouGcC
— Wall Street Money (@WallStreetSilv) May 12, 2023
At the time of publication, the tweet – to which Twitter owner Elon Musk responded – had 22,000 likes.
We also found fewer viral posts on social media platforms, such as a Reddit post from 2019 in the r/todayilarned subreddit. This message claimed that the time difference between the item and the flight was one week.
The Times published an editorial article on October 9, 1903, with the headline “Flying machines that do not fly”. We found the article using the TimesMachine feature of the Times website, which included scanned pages of issues from 1851 to 2002. The editorial was published two days after aviation pioneer Samuel P. Langley n failed to launch its own aircraft on October 7, 1903.
The editorial said:
The machine does only what it must do by obeying the natural laws acting on passive matter. Therefore, if it takes, say, a thousand years to adapt to the easy flight of a bird that started out with rudimentary wings, or ten thousand years for a bird that started out with no wings at all and had to germinate ab initio, one might assume that the a flying machine that will actually fly could be developed by the combined and continued efforts of mathematicians and mechanics within a million to ten million years – provided, of course, that we can between- time to eliminate the small inconveniences and embarrassments that the existing relationship between weight and strength in inorganic materials. No doubt the problem has attractions for those interested in it, but for the ordinary man it would seem that effort could be employed with more profit.
The Wright brothers fled on December 17, 1903, 69 days later. According to a 2017 article by The Virginian-Pilot, that newspaper was the first and only to report what happened. The article said:
News of the theft was leaked to Virginian-Pilot reporters hours after it happened. Pilot reporters rushed to report the event, and the original story published on December 18, 1903 contained numerous errors.
In 2003, on the anniversary of the flight, The Pilot ran a front-page story, correcting many errors that appeared in the original story.
According to the 2017 Virginian-Pilot article, some of the errors corrected in the 2003 Virginian-Pilot front page article included information about who flew the plane. The original 1903 article said that Wilbur Wright had flown the plane, was the machine’s chief inventor, and had “raven-colored hair and deep blue eyes.” In truth, Orville Wright flew the plane, and he didn’t have “raven-colored hair or deep blue eyes.” The brothers said they were equal inventors of the machine.
When the Wright brothers took to the skies on December 17, 1903, 69 days after the New York Times published an op-ed about how it might take 10 million years to develop a successful flying machine, we found the statement to be true.