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Archives at The Museum of Flight

William Preston Mayfield Wright Brothers Photograph Album

Identifier: 2018-10-01-C
This personal album of aviation photographer William Preston Mayfield contains 50 silver gelatin prints relating to Wilbur and Orville Wright. Orville Wright is pictured several times though Wilbur only appears a few times. A few other pilots and students are also pictured. Several of their planes are pictured, in flight and on the ground. The majority of photographs were taken at the Wrights' Simms Station Road airfield near Dayton, Ohio, but some were taken at other locations including Paris, France and New York City.

The photographs were taken primarily from 1909-1917 but the prints were made circa 1930s. The prints measure approximately 9.5x7.5 inches. They are affixed to the pages of the leather-bound album and many have Mayfield's handwritten captions below.


  • 1909-circa 1930


Language of Materials

All materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research and is accessible in the Dahlberg Research Center by appointment. For more information contact us.

Conditions Governing Use

The Museum of Flight (TMOF) Archives is the owner of the physical materials in the archives and makes available reproductions for research, publication, and other uses. Written permission must be obtained from TMOF archives before any publication use. TMOF does not necessarily hold copyright to all of the materials in the collections. In some cases, permission for use may require seeking additional authorization from copyright owners. Consult repository for more details.


.375 Cubic Feet (1 flat box)


Personal album of aviation photographer William Preston Mayfield wtih 50 silver gelatin prints relating to Wilbur and Orville Wright.

Biographical Note: William Preston Mayfield

William Preston Mayfield (1896-1974) was an aviation and aerial photographer. He is credited with being the first person to take an aerial photograph from a heavier-than-air machine.

Born in Lexington, Kentucky, he became a photographer for the Dayton Daily News at the age of fourteen. In 1910 he was invited by Orville Wright to fly in a Wright flyer. While in flight he leaned over the edge of the aircraft and snapped a photograph of Wright's hangar from the air, making the first photograph ever taken from a plane. He would go on to document many other aviation "firsts." He continued to work for the next six decades as a news and commercial photographer in the Dayton, Ohio area.
Biographical Note: Wright Brothers Orville Wright (August 19, 1871 – January 30, 1948) and his brother Wilbur (April 16, 1867 – May 30, 1912) are credited with being the first to successfully invent, build and fly an airplane. Their first successful flight in a powered, heavier-than-air aircraft took place on December 17, 1903, near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

Orville and Wilbur were two of seven children born to Milton Wright (1828–1917), a bishop, and Susan Catherine Koerner (1831–1889). They attended high school though neither received a diploma. In 1889 they started a printing press and published a newspaper. Later they cashed in on the bicyclce craze and opened a repair and sales shop. Increasingly interested in flight, they began experimentation by 1899. The experimented first with gliders before attempting powered flight. Aviation pioneer Octave Chanute had suggested to them to do their test flights along the mid-Atlantic coast for its breezes and soft sandy landing surfaces, so they decided on Kitty Hawk, North Carolina which also gave them privacy from reporters.

After many experiments with gliders, the brothers built their first powered aircraft, the Wright Flyer, in 1903. After having a custom designed propeller made, they began flight attmpts on December 14, 1903. After repairs and modifications to their Flyer, they made their successful flight attempts on December 17, 1903, with two flights each from level ground into a freezing headwind. Orville's first flight was at 10:35 am, flew 120 feet in 12 seconds at a speed of only 6.8 miles per hour at an altitude of about 10 feet above ground.

In 1904 they set up an airfield at Huffman Prairie, near Dayton to continue to experiment closer to home. They continued to modify their Flyers and make flying attempts, but their accomplishments were met with skepticism by the press. They spent 1906 and 1907 unsuccessfully tyring to get contracts from the U.S. and European governments. More demonstration flights, both in the U.S. and Europe, brought them more attention, business success and fame.

In 1906 they had been awarded patent number 821393 for "new and useful Improvements in Flying Machines". However they had continuing legal battles with other aviators, namely Glenn Curtiss, who refused to pay licensing fees. They incorporated their Wright Company on November 22, 1909. They hired exhibition pilots in 1910 to drum up business for aircraft sales. That year their company also made the first commercial cargo flight by flying fabric Dayton to Columbus, Ohio, for the Morehouse-Martens Department Store. The Wright Brothers Flying School at Huffman Prairie trained over 100 pilots.

Wilbur died of typhoid fever in 1912. Orville continued to run their business, with assistance from their sister Katharine, until 1915 when he sold it. He made his last flight as a pilot in 1918, serving on boards and committees in his retirement. Orville died in 1948.

Custodial History

This album was created by William Preston Mayfield. It descended to Marvin Christian who worked with Mayfield and subsequently purchased the contents of his studio. The album was purchased by the Museum from RR Auction.


No further accruals expected.

Existence and Location of Copies

Materials from this collection have been digitized and are available at The Museum of Flight Digital Collections.

Related Materials at the Museum of Flight

  • Wright, Curtiss-Wright and Curtiss Corporation Documentation (2002-01-05)
  • Manny Gorin Wright Brothers Glass Plate Negatives Collection (2004-09-07)
  • Manny Gorin Wright Brothers Collection (2007-05-30-B)
Related Materials at Other Institutions Wright State University, Special Collections and Archives has the William Preston Mayfield Photograph Collection - Egbert Donation (MS-348).
Guide to the William Preston Mayfield Wright Brothers Photograph Album
Completed - Level 4
N. Davis
Description rules
Language of description
Edition statement
1st edition

Repository Details

Part of the The Museum of Flight Archives Repository

9404 East Marginal Way South
Seattle Washington 98108-4097

The Museum of Flight | 9404 E. Marginal Way South | Seattle WA 98108-4097 | 206-764-5874
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