At This Day That Age, we take a look at the most significant events that have happened on each day of the year, as a way to make history come alive, and to give you a chance to relive some of the most important events in the history of the world. Let’s take a look at December 17, and some of the most interesting, significant, and unique events that have occurred on this day in history.
December 17, 1903 – The Wright Brothers Make The First Sustained Motorized Aircraft Flight
Undoubtedly, the most significant event to have happened on this day was the Wright Brothers’ first sustained flight of a motorized aircraft, when they successfully flew their Wright Flyer for the first time on December 17, 1903.
The Wright Brothers had established themselves in a camp at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, to test the plane at Kitty Hawk. For the weeks leading up to their first successful flight, they were plagued with delays and other issues – particularly broken propeller shafts that snapped during engine tests. These broken shafts had to be replaced, requiring two trips back to Dayton, Ohio, further increasing these delays.
On December 14, 1903, Wilbur won a coin toss, and the right to attempt to finally pilot the aircraft. However, the flight that day was unsuccessful. The plan made a three-second flight attempt before stalling out after takeoff. Then, it had to be grounded for more repairs.
In a strange coincidence, this first flight attempt occurred on the 121st anniversary of the first-ever hot air balloon test flight, which was performed by the Montgolfier Brothers on December 14, 1782.
After repairs, weather conditions on December 17 turned out to be ideal – and the first flight of the Wright Flyer occured at Kill Devil Hills in North Carolina, at 10:35 am. Orville Wright flew the aircraft, and flew for a total of 120 feet in 12 seconds, at a speed of about 6.8 miles per hour. It was during this flight that John T. Daniels, a member of the U.S. Life-Saving Station of Kill Devil Hills, observing Orville flying, snapped the now-famous photo of the first flight of the Wright Flyer using a camera prepositioned by Wilbur.
After this flight, the Wright Brothers repeatedly flew the aircraft further and further. Wilbur flew the craft for about 175 feet, and then Orville took another turn, flying 200 feet. They maintained an altitude of about 10 feet above the ground.
The final – and most successful flight – of the day took place at 12 o’clock, according to Orville Wright. Wilbur was at the controls, and took off shakily, with some up-and-down movement for the first 300 feet of the flight. Wilbur managed to get control of the Wright Flyer, and reach a distance of about 800 feet with few issues. Then, the plane pitched downard, and struck the ground, causing minor damage to the frame supporting the front rudder.
The total flight distance was measured at 859 feet – and flight time was measured at 59 seconds. Five men witnessed the flight, and a telegram was immediately sent to the Wright’s father in Dayton, Ohio, requesting that he alert the press. The brothers also informed the press about the events in January of next year, but the flights made little buzz – they were deemed “too short” to be significant by the press.
Undeterred, the Wrights continued innovating – building the Wright Flyer II, which flew a total of 105 times in 1904 for sustained flight times of up to 5 minutes, gaining the Wright Brothers widespread notoriety.
Today, the first flight of the Wright Flyer has gone down in history as one of the most important moments in the history of human flight. But unfortunately, the first successful flight of the Wright Flyer was also its last.
When hauling the Wright Flyer back from the test area, a high gust of wind stripped away the craft and flipped it several times, despite the crew attempting to hold it down in vain. It was severely damaged, and never flew again – but the brothers shipped it home to have it restored, and it was lent to several museums as a display piece, before finding a permanent home in the Smithsonian Institution at Washington, DC.
Observations And Celebrations
Wright Brothers Day was first declared as a commemorative event by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1959. December 17 is known as “Wright Brothers Day” in honor of their first flight, and many flight enthusiast groups hold events celebrating this achievement.
The Wright Brothers and their first successful flight are celebrated far and wide in America. Ceremonies and celebrations are common in nearby Kitty Hawk, NC, as well as in Dayton, Ohio, the birthplace of Orville and Wilbur Wright.
The largest such celebration has been held more than a hundred times by the National Park Service, with celebrations occurring at the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina.
The ceremony includes keynote speakers, a flyby by the United States Air Force, and a yearly wreath-laying ceremony, conducted by the descendants of those who witnessed the first flight of the Wright Brothers.
In addition, the Aero Club of Washington hosts the Wright Brothers Dinner in Washington D.C. on December 17, where it awards the yearly National Aeronautic Association’s Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy to its recipient, and celebrates the life and history of the Wright Brothers.
Other Famous Events On This Day In History
1933: The First NFL Championship Game Is Held
The National Football League, the precursor to today’s NFL, held its first-ever championship on this day in 1933. On December 17, the first-ever title game was held at Wrigley Field in Chicago. The Chicago Bear managed to eke out a slim victory against the New York Giants, beating them 23-21.
Interestingly, this was before the introduction of some of the modern rules of football as we know them today. Back then, the “Bronko Nagurski Rule” was in effect. Players were allowed to pass the ball forward anywhere behind the line of scrimmage. This is in contrast to today, where only backward passes are allowed.
1947: Dennis Gabor Invents Holography For British Company BTH
Dennis Gabor, who went on to win the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1971, first patented the concept of holography for BTH, a British industrial company for which he was working at the time. He discovered the process of creating a hologram by mistake, when working on a project intended to help increase the visual quality of electron microscope images.
However, he lacked a suitable, high-powered light source, which would not be popularized until the invention of the laser. Once lasers were invented, scientists using Gabor’s ideas were able to create tiny, transparent, postage-stamp sized holograms.
Holograms remained niche until the 1970s, when advances in manufacturing allowed for the creation of the “embossed hologram,” which is the type of holography that most of us know, and is used to this day on bank notes, driver’s licenses, credit cards and more.
1964: James Bond “Goldfinger” Is Released
The third James Bond installment, “Goldfinger,” was first released on this day in 1964. The film, which starred Sean Connery as Bond, and included iconic characters like Pussy Galore and Jill Masterson, also introduced some of the concepts and imagery that would be associated with the Bond franchise in the future, such as futuristic gadgets, extensive shooting on foreign locations.
It also introduced the extensive, pre-credits sequence which would come to be one of the most iconic in cinema history. Released to critical acclaim, it was also the first Bond movie to win an Academy Award, when Norman Wanstall won the award for Best Sound Effects Editing for his work on the film at the 1965 Academy Awards.
1989: The First Episode of “The Simpsons” Airs
“The Simpsons” is one of the most influential television cartoons of all time, and is still currently running, with more than 30 seasons under its belt. But on this day in 1989, the show premiered for the first time on Fox.
The Simpsons actually grew out of a series of animated shorts produced by Matt Groening, the showrunner, who worked with producer James L. Brooks. These shorts and sketches appeared as part of the Tracey Ullman Show starting in April, 1987. Then, after running for three seasons, they were developed into a half-hour, prime-time animated show – The Simpsons.
The show is widely considered to be one of the most popular, influential, and significant TV shows, and it is the longest running American sitcom. It has won 31 Primetime Emmy Awards, 30 Annie Awards, and a Peabody Award.
2010: The “Arab Spring” Begins
On this day in history in 2010, the “Arab Spring” uprisings began with demonstrations in Tunisia on December 17-18, 2010. These protests began after the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian man who lit himself on fire to protest rampant police corruption.
In the coming months and years, the Arab Spring would spread to countries including Algeria, Jordan, Oman, Egypt, Yemen, Sudan, Iraq, Bahrain, Libya, and many others. This movement has resulted in several civil wars, overthrown governments, and major protests resulting in governmental changes – and its ramifications are felt in the Middle East to this day.
Famous Birthdays On December 17
1770: Ludwig van Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven was born on this day in 1770, in Bonn, which is now part of North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany. His grandfather, also named Ludwig van Beethoven, was a musician from the town of Mechelen in the Duchy of Brabant. He established himself in Vienna, Austria, and gained recognition for his compositions starting in the early 1800s, with his own compositions being heavily influenced by Haydn and Mozart. Today, he is considered to be a musical genius, and one of the finest composers to have ever lived.
1930: Bob Guccione
Bob Guccione was an American publisher and photographer who was born on December 17, 1930, in Brooklyn, New York. A controversial figure, he is most well-known for founding Penthouse magazine, an adult magazine aimed at competing with Hugh Hefner’s “Playboy” by focusing on more risque photos and content. By the late ‘80s, he was extremely wealthy and owned one of the largest mansions in Manhattan, but his fortunes diminished in the 1990s before his passing in 2010.
1936: Pope Francis
Pope Francis was born Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Buenos Aires, Argentina on December 17, 1936. He became an ordained Catholic priest in 1969, and was the provincial superior of the Society of Jesuits in Argentina. In 1998, he became Archbishop of Buenos Aires, and then became a Cardinal thanks to Pope John Paul II in 2001. In February 2013, he was elected to the papacy after the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI.
1975: Milla Jovovich
Milla Jovovich is a Russian-American actress who is well-known for her roles in science fiction and action films like “The Fifth Element,” “Ultraviolet,” the “Resident Evil” franchise of films, and “The Fourth Kind.” She was born in Kiev, USSR on December 17, 1975. Her family left the Soviet Union 5 years later in 1980, immigrating to London and then Sacramento, California, before settling in Los Angeles, where she got her start as a model – and later, as an actress.
1978: Manny Pacquiao
Manny Pacquiao is a Filipino boxer who currently serves as a senator in the Philippines, and he was born on this day in 1978. He is the only boxer to ever win a championship in all eight divisions of boxing, and has been ranked among the top 5 “pound for pound” boxers of all time, along with his rival Floyd Mayweather. In 2015, he was the second-highest paid athlete in the world, and has won numerous awards for his prowess in the boxing ring.
Not many days are as historic as December 17, when the Wright Brothers flew their first successful aircraft, but each day has its own historical events, and they’re all fascinating and intriguing. We hope that you’ve enjoyed this article, and will join This Day That Age again, when we look at another day in history!