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Orville Wright’s Revealing Letter to a National Geographic Icon

Image of the 125 Anniversary logo There is no notation in the archives of National Geographic to indicate why Luis Marden happened to be at the dedication of Wright Hill, a memorial honoring the Wright Brothers in Dayton, Ohio, but one can guess.

Marden, a legendary photographer and writer who worked for the magazine from 1934 to 1976, loved airplanes. He first soloed in 1935, and in 1983 at the age of 70 wrote a story on ultralights, those sparrow-like little aircraft then new on the scene. (He acquired one for himself and named it the Red Baron.)

Earlier in his storied career, he was one of the photographers on a National Geographic story celebrating aviation’s 50th anniversary.  Marden had an insatiable curiosity about the world. He worked underwater with Jacques Cousteau, found the bones of the HMS Bounty, had an orchid named after him, and, most of all, pioneered in 35 mm photography at the Geographic.

Of course he would have known Orville Wright. This letter, with its interesting insight into Wright’s inability to fly in the later years of his life, is only one of many gems from Marden’s long, illustrious career.

A 1940 letter from Orville Wright to National Geographic photographer Luis Marden.
A 1940 letter from Orville Wright to National Geographic photographer Luis Marden.


  1. Drae'Ven Green
    Loganville, Georgia.
    July 4, 2013, 4:23 pm

    Orville preferred nothing be said about that, but I guess it’s too late now…

  2. Joseph Kimani
    Nairobi, Kenya
    May 30, 2013, 2:45 am

    Wow, its great to uncover these secrets between inventors and scientists. I want more 🙂

  3. Thom McCann
    May 7, 2013, 7:02 pm

    i wonder what other secrets have gone on between inventors and scientists will show up in the fiuture.

  4. Cathy Newman
    Washington, DC
    May 7, 2013, 11:04 am

    As addendum you might like knowing that Luis Marden loved speed, but he also appreciated more leisurely forms of travel. In his early days at the magazine he would set sail under the flag of the great steamship companies like Cunard. Later, forced to travel by plane, he wrote a friend. “I was so pressed for time (the prevailing sickness of our age) that I had to fly.”

  5. Jeff Hertrick
    Washington, DC
    May 6, 2013, 2:27 pm

    Cathy: Thank you for resurrecting this from the sometimes forgotten treasure trove known as the National Geographic archives! My parents took me to Kitty Hawk, NC as a 7 -year-old many, many years ago, and it’s an interesting “back-end” insight into the life and thoughts of Orville Wright.