Wright Brothers National Memorial, Kill Devil Hills
Robert T. Rodgers and Alfred E. Poor, New York, Architect
Oskar Hansen, Ashcroft, Virginia, Sculptor
Sheidow Bronze Corporation, Foundry
The Wright Brothers National Memorial is a 60-foot pylon, styled after those used for airplane races, constructed of gray granite blocks. It honors Wilbur and Orville Wright and marks the site of the glider flights that preceded their first powered flight. The design on two sides of the shaft gives the impression of giant bird wings uplifted as if for a take-off, an effect heightened at night by flood lights projected from the five points of the star shaped base. On either side of the staircase entrance leading to the observation deck are reproductions of bronze busts of Orville and Wilbur Wright (see Subject Notes). The bust of Orville is on the proper right; the bust of Wilbur, on the proper left. The pylon crowns Kill Devil Hill, a 90-foot dune of once shifting sand that has been stabilized with grass. When constructed the monument also served as a beacon for aerial and marine navigation. The surrounding park has a reconstructed shack and hanger of the brother’s camp and historical story boards along with cairns marking the site of the first flights. The monument underwent a total renovation sponsored by the First Flight Foundation in 2008.
Images: West side | Northwest corner | Northwest corner close-up | Southwest view | Wilbur Wright | Orville Wright | Pylon base | Base, Wilbur and Orville busts | View from below the mound | View of the Wright Brothers memorial and of the First Successful Flight | Far-off view of memorials and markers
Pylon front: WILBUR / WRIGHT / ORVILLE / WRIGHT
Pylon base: [Front, south] IN COMMEMORATION OF THE CONQUEST OF THE AIR /
[Southeast corner] BY /
[Side, east] THE BROTHERS WILBUR AND ORVILLE WRIGHT CONCEIVED BY /
[Northwest corner] GENIUS /
[Side, west] ACHIEVED BY DAUNTLESS RESOLUTION AND UNCONQUERABLE FAITH
Pylon base beneath word GENIUS: ERECTED BY / THE CONGRESS OF / THE UNITED STATES / BEGUN 1928 / DEDICATED 1932
Base, Wilbur and Orville busts: REPLACEMENTS COURTESY OF / THE FRIENDS OF PAUL GARBER
A GIFT TO THE UNITED STATES / BY THE NORTHERN ELECTRIC COMPANY / OF GALION, OHIO
OSKAR J.W. HANSEN, SCULPTOR, 1960
National Park Service
November 14, 1932
36.014290 , -75.667950 View in Geobrowse
"Kitty Hawk Air Show", in the Hugh Morton Photographs and Films #P0081, North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library Link
"Marker and Monument at Base and Top of Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina Marking Site of First Successful Airplane Flight by the Wright Brothers" in North Carolina Postcard Collection (P052), North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, Wilson Library, UNC-Chapel Hill Link
"The Wright Memorial by Night, Kill Devil Hills, N.C. Near Kitty Hawk" in North Carolina Postcard Collection (P052), North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, Wilson Library, UNC-Chapel Hill Link
Wright, Hamilton M. “Chaining a Mountain of Sand,” Popular Science July (1932), 99-100 (accessed December 6, 2016) Link
“Many Notables Will Be Present,” Asheville Citizen Times (Asheville, NC), November 13, 1932, 28
“Monument to the Impossible,” The Historical Marker Database, HMdb.org, (accessed December 6, 2016) Link
“Nation Will Pay Tribute to Wrights on Saturday,” Asheville Citizen Times (Asheville, NC), November 17, 1932, 10
“State and Nation Pay Tribute To Air Pioneers,” Asheville Citizen Times (Asheville, NC), November 20, 1932, 1, 4
“Wright Brothers National Memorial, (Sculpture),” Smithsonian American Art Museum, Art Inventories Catalog, (accessed December 6, 2016) Link
“Wright Brothers National Memorial,” The Historical Marker Database, HMdb.org, (accessed December 6, 2016) Link
1,200 tons of granite, over 2,000 tons of gravel, over 800 tons of sand and 400 tons of cement were used to build the structure. It is constructed of granite mined at the North Carolina Granite Corporation Quarry Complex in Mt. Airy
United States Congress
$275,000 to $285,000
20 thousand spectators were expected but only a thousand showed up on a stormy, windy day. The gale became so strong at one point the ceremony had to be halted for half an hour and many counted as present never left their automobiles. Orville Wright was the main guest of honor at the ceremony but did not speak. The famous female aviator Ruth Rowland Nichols was given the privilege of removing the American flag that covered the word "GENIUS" and the plaque on the monument. A fleet of seaplanes and other aircraft flew over as the monument’s beacon was lit for the first time. The “great” dirigible “Akron” was scheduled to fly over but grounded because of the high winds.
The memorial park was authorized as “Kill Devil Hill Monument” on March 2, 1927; it was transferred from the War Department to the National Park Service on August 10, 1933. Congress renamed it and designated it a national memorial on December 4, 1953.
The busts of Orville and Wilbur Wright were originally sculpted by Oskar Hansen (1892-1971), who is most often associated with sculptures located at the Hoover Dam. Both busts went missing, were vandalized and recovered in July 1985. They were stolen again in April 1987 and recovered in October 1989. In 1987, copies of the busts were made by Sheidow Bronze Corporation, cast from a duplicate set located at the Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. The reproductions were placed in honor of Paul Garber who was the first head of the National Air Museum of the Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, D.C.
The Wright Brothers Memorial National Park is located on the Outer Banks of North Carolina at Kill Devil Hills. The park address is 1000 N. Croatan Hwy., Kill Devil Hills, NC. Right to the south of the memorial are First Successful Flight of an Airplane Memorial and markers of four powered flights by the Wright brothers made on the morning of December 17, 1903. The First Flight Centennial Memorial is to its north.
The National Memorial stands on Kill Devil Hill (a high mound) overlooking the airfield used by the Wright brothers, visitor's center and park.