Wrights take to the air

The birth of flight

December 17: Unquestionably the most significant event of 1903, though few realised it at the time, happened on a windy sand dune in North Carolina and was witnessed by only a handful of people. Brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright, bicycle makers by trade, had been toying with model aircraft and gliders since 1899.

They were not alone. Throughout the 19th century, engineers and dreamers had been experimenting with everything from balloons to steam engines in many misguided attempts to crack the secret of powered flight.

The Wright Brothers developed a light but powerful petrol engine driving two propellors and bolted it to a primitive pair of wings. Orville lay face down on the optimistically named Flier I and Orville ran alongside, steadying the wings as it picked up speed on the launch rails.

Quite suddenly, Flyer 1 took to the air and stayed aloft for 12 seconds. Was it a fluke? The brothers tried again, and again. By the end of the day, Flyer I had made one flight of 59 seconds and covered more than 850 feet. It was a turning point in history. Mankind had acquired wings.

The brothers believed that powered flight would make wars impossible. Forty-two years later another American flying machine, the Superfortress Enola Gay, would drop the world's first atom bomb on Hiroshima.

May 29. Comedian Bob Hope born Leslie Townes Hope in Eltham. Like so many young Britons of the age, Hope found fame and fortune in America. Teamed with Bing Crosby, notably in the great "Road" series of movies, he became one of the world's best-loved comics.

December 10: Madame Curie and her husband, Pierre, received the Nobel Prize for physics, following their epoch-making exploration of radiation. Marie Curie became the first woman ever to win a Nobel Prize. Her discovery of elements which were far more radioactive than anything previously known paved the way for X-rays and anti-cancer radiotherapy.


In brief

January 3.
Stafford Rural District Council approved plans to extend the electricity supply into parts of the parishes of Seighford, Castle Church, Tillington, Hopton, Coton and Berkswich.

April 27.
At the end of one of its worst seasons, the Albrighton Hunt lost "one of the very best bitches" when the hounds ran across the railway line into the path of the Stafford to Wolverhampton express at Calf Heath.

June 11.
At Willenhall, a ladies' committee of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was formed. The first meeting heard that 76 per cent of cases brought by the society were reported by the public.

August 1.
Sir John French, one of the greatest generals of the age, opened the new drill hall at Carter's Green and received the Freedom of West Bromwich.

November 2.
The medical officer for Short Heath reported the town's worst death rate for 30 years, due partly to "a virulent type of measles."