SP-4103 Model Research - Volume 1



The Quest for a National Aeronautical Laboratory: Progress, Preparedness, and Progressivism, 1910-1915


[1] Twelve years separated the first powered flight of the Wright brothers in 1903 from the creation of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. Had Americans appreciated and understood the Wright accomplishment more fully, they might have institutionalized aeronautical research more quickly. Instead, Americans ignored and then discounted the Wrights and their achievement, embroiled them in a petty but far-reaching dispute with the Smithsonian Institution, and allowed the Europeans to take the lead in aeronautical development. When the NACA was finally created in 1915, it had to catch up with the rest of the world.

Wilbur and Orville Wright had mastered flight in a wind tunnel before they powered off the ground at Kitty Hawk in 1903. Their achievement flowed as much from broad study and scientific method as from their natural intuition and genius. But this was not widely known at the time; instead, the Wrights were viewed by many as mere bicycle mechanics, and their achievement as a fortuitous victory over their nearest American rival, Samuel Pierpont Langley, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution and scientist of flight. By extension, the Wright success was a victory over science itself, or so it seemed. Langley had studied the flight of bird; for years and in the late 1890s had flown a model of an "aerodrome" almost a mile in powered heavier-than-air flight. Nine days before the Wright brothers' first flight, Langley launched his full-scale aerodrome, with a pilot aboard, from a houseboat in the Potomac River. It crashed ignominiously into the water. Langley and his enterprise were roundly ridiculed in the press, overshadowing for a while the unheralded success of the Wrights a few days later.1

[2] Not until 1908 was the achievement of the Wrights fully appreciated, though even then not their method. In that "annus mirabilis in aviation history," a turning point from which heavier-than-air flight followed a more or less straight course to the present, the Wrights performed what they had been rehearsing and refining for almost five years. They flew faster and farther, and with greater control, ease, safety, and grace, than any of their awkward imitators and competitors. Their achievement was consummate, its impact on the aviation world overwhelming and definitive. In their wake, the memory of Langley's doused and discredited aerodrome seemed even more ridiculous. To a public yet unaware of the Wrights' scientific research, it appeared that science had been bested by mechanics, scholarship and erudition humbled by mere cleverness and inventiveness. Langley seemed to contemporaries "a professor wandering in his dreams"; the Wrights were "known merely as practical mechanics.2

That was the impression in the United States, at least. University research in aeronautics was virtually nonexistent. No private contributors had come forward to endow laboratories. The government avoided any more investments that might remind the public of the $50,000 it had sunk in the Langley enterprise. Not even the Smithsonian Institution seemed willing to venture again into these troubled waters: Dr. Langley's laboratory was closed down, to stand behind the Castle building on the Mall as a silent monument to the political hazards of aeronautical research.

About the only island in the empty sea of American aeronautics was the Aerial Equipment Association of Baddeck, Nova Scotia, and Hammondsport, New York. Funded by Mrs. Alexander Graham Bell, the A.E.A. was founded in 1907 to test the ideas of her husband and four other aviation pioneers about how best "to get into the air." Bell's tetrahedral lifting body proved a disappointment, as did the other experiments attempted by the association. The group disbanded in 1909, having contributed little to aeronautical progress beyond advancing the ideas and experiences of the executive officer and director of experiments, Glenn H. Curtiss.3

Aviation in the United States fared as badly in its first five years as did research into its principles. Not until 1907 did the military services let their first contract for an airplane, and even when Orville Wright flew one at Fort Myer the following year, meeting all the army's specifications, the government was slow to follow up. The first regular appropriation in the services did not materialize until 1911, when the navy received $25,000. Most other flying in the United States was barnstorming and stunt-flying for show and profit, not the sort of thing to advance the state of the art.

[3] The European experience in the decade after the Wrights' first flight differed dramatically from the American. The Europeans appreciated the achievement of the Wrights and drew no distinction between researches done in a bicycle shop in Dayton and those done in a laboratory at the Smithsonian; they brought to aviation a strong scientific tradition and a predisposition to institutionalize scientific endeavors. They saw sooner than did the Americans that progress in aviation flowed from aeronautical research, and they created a variety of institutions to support this research. In some cases, they merely expanded upon research institutions already in place.

Most of Europe's early aeronautical laboratories were in France, but by the opening of the twentieth century such institutions existed throughout the continent. Work at the Central Establishment for Military Aeronautics at Chalais-Meudon near Paris was complemented by the researches of Gustave Eiffel, working at his famous tower between 1902 and 1906, then in laboratories at the Champ de Mars and in Auteuil, and after 1912 at the privately endowed Aerotechnical Institute of the University of Paris located at St. Cyr. Like similar organizations to follow, the Institute had a director supported by an advisory committee composed of scientific and aeronautical experts from the University of Paris, the Aero Club of France, and government departments concerned with aviation. A similar privately owned university-connected laboratory was established in Russia in 1904 when the Aerodynamic Institute of Koutchino was appended to the University of Moscow. The aero-dynamical laboratory of the University of Gottingen, established in the year of Wilbur Wright's first European flights, was also funded from external sources, including government, industry, and private associations, and was directed by Professor Ludwig Prandtl, with the advice of prominent scientists and engineers.4

The laboratory that was to reflect most clearly the impact of Wilbur Wright's demonstration of 1908 and to influence most directly the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics was the British Royal Aircraft Factory, formed in 1909 as an adjunct to the National Physical Laboratory. Prime Minister Herbert Asquith announced before the House of Commons 5 May 1909 the creation of this research center, describing it as one step in a major policy initiative "looking toward placing [the government's] organization for aerial navigation on a more satisfactory footing."5 In short, the British planned to keep pace with the Americans and continental Europeans by officially sponsoring aeronautical research of their own.

The last step taken by the British in the spring offensive of 1909 was the appointment of an Advisory Committee for Aeronautics "for the superintendence of the investigations at the National Physical Laboratory and for general advice on the scientific problems arising in [4] connection with the work of the Admiralty and War Office in aerial construction and navigation." Distinguished scientists and engineers from public and private life were appointed to the committee, which included representatives of the armed services, the Meteorological Office, and the National Physical Laboratory, the government agencies most directly concerned with aeronautics. While many European powers were institutionalizing aeronautical research, the British were characteristically superimposing a central committee on an existing network of institutions.

Advances in aviation came quickly. In July 1909 Louis Bleriot flew across the English Channel and added national security to the other rationales for Britain's new aviation policy. The following month, the Rheims aviation week provided, as historian Charles H. Gibbs-Smith has observed, "the greatest technical stimulus to aviation," contributing to the emergence of aircraft types distinguishable from, and in some ways superior to, the Wright flyers. Bleriots, Farmans, and Antoinettes became familiar sights in the skies over Europe. Inherent stability, monoplane design, and ailerons began to win acceptance over the Wright characteristics. Competition among scores of serious designers and manufacturers spurred a rate of progress faster than that in the United States, where only Glenn Curtiss seriously challenged the preeminence of the Wrights.6




A small group of like-minded men in the United States found it a national embarrassment - not to say a danger - that the country where aviation began should trail so far behind the Europeans. They saw aviation as an infant Hercules with boundless potential for national defense, commerce, and even melioration of the human predicament. They were what Eric Hoffer would call true believers: enthusiasts and visionaries deeply committed to a cause in which they believed passionately, at time irrationally. They wanted to see the United States lead in every phase of aviation, and they believed with Langley and the Wright brothers (as well as with the Europeans then funding laboratories and institutes) that the advance of aeronautics would come with scientific research. Though they also wanted to see larger budgets for military aviation, the encouragement of commercial aviation, and the nurturing of an aircraft-manufacturing industry, they wanted first and foremost a national aeronautical research laboratory to rival those of Europe.

The campaign of the enthusiasts for a national aeronautical laboratory first captured public attention early in 1911, when their club, the Aeronautical Society, announced that at its first annual banquet (to be held in April) it planned "to announce definite arrangements for the [5] establishment of a national aeronautical laboratory."7 President Taft was to lend his prestige and unofficial approval to this enterprise by heading the list of distinguished guests at the dinner. The secretary of the navy, the commissioner of patents, the chief of the Weather Bureau, the chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations, the secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, and the chancellor of New York University were among the public officials, academics, businessmen, and aviators who would vote by their presence at the banquet for the advancement of aeronautics in the United States. The Aeronautical Society was only one among man), such clubs forming at the time to enlist public and private support for aviation. Though the character of these groups was business, and their principal goal was the fostering of commercial aviation, they were alive to the importance of military aviation as well. Their aim was to take flying out of the hands of barnstormers and stunt men who were giving it a bad name and an alarming safety record, and place it instead in the hands of serious businessmen, sportsmen, and public officials who would give it the support and regulation it needed to catch up with European achievements.8 These were earnest, well-to-do, public-spirited men of established position and reliable views, men with whom President Taft could dine in comfort and congeniality. Their endorsement of a national aeronautical laboratory, especially if the announcement were made by Taft himself as was expected, would give the project a promising future.

But the endorsement never came. On 10 April, the Washington Star reported that the proposed laboratory was to be administered by the Smithsonian Institution and located at the National Bureau of Standards. This scoop set off a bureaucratic struggle in Washington that doomed what might have been an easy birth for a national aeronautical laboratory. The opening salvo was fired by Rear Admiral R.M. Watt, chief of the navy's Bureau of Construction and Repair. A week before the date of the Aeronautical Society banquet, he protested to the secretary of the navy that the establishment of a laboratory under Smithsonian control at the Bureau of Standards would result in a duplication of work and organization of the type recently denounced by the president's own Commission on Economy and Efficiency in Government. The experimental model basin at the Washington Navy Yard, Admiral Watt argued, was already equipped to investigate "a considerable portion of the phenomena associated with aeronautics" because the character of motion, the effect of variation in stream lines, and the theory and mathematics of the motions are almost identical whether in water or air."9 This single objection, no doubt brought to President Taft's attention by Navy Secretary George Meyer, who was also to attend the Aeronautical Society banquet, seems to have dissuaded Taft [6] from making the expected announcement. Instead, the issue remained in Washington, where it encountered still more bureaucratic opposition. The Bureau of Engineering added its objection to that of the Bureau of Construction and Repair, noting that the Engineering Experiment Station at Annapolis was also capable of aeronautical research. The secretary of the navy then proposed that, in lieu of establishing a laboratory under the control of the Smithsonian Institution and the Bureau of Standards, the government assign responsibility for all "laboratory investigations of aeronautical matters" to the navy.10 That, of course, was unsatisfactory to the army. The secretary of war replied that, in spite of the possible duplication involved, the army would have to conduct its own aeronautical research. At this juncture the dispute was referred to the Commission on Economy and Efficiency in Government, where, not surprisingly, it died."11




The forces behind the original Aeronautical Society proposal were not easily deterred. Two men were especially important in the next stage of the struggle. Captain W. Irving Chambers, since 1910 the secretary of the navy's special adviser on aviation matters, had been author of the first proposal for a laboratory under the Smithsonian and the Bureau of Standards, and it had been in fact his independent and irascible nature that had touched off opposition to the plan within the navy. His attachment to the European scheme of organizing laboratories and his disregard of the jealously guarded prerogatives of the navy's Bureaus of Engineering and of Construction and Repair had frustrated the first attempt to establish a laboratory. But he was nothing if not stubborn. He believed a laboratory was essential not only to the navy but also to the entire country, and he meant to secure one, if not through the Aeronautical Society, then some other way. In his second attempt lie was joined by Albert F. Zahm, a man of many accomplishments: professor of mechanics at Catholic University, aerodynamic researcher of note, secretary of the Aero Club of Washington, governor of the Aero Club of America, consulting editor of the Aero Club of America Bulletin, and consultant to the National Bureau of Standards. Like Chambers, Zahm was a true believer in aviation. Like Chambers, he wanted to see an aeronautical laboratory on the European model established in the United States. Unlike Chambers, he was politic and deferential, unburdened by service rivalry, graced with the mantle of academic impartiality.

Together the two men led a spirited campaign in 1912 to revive the idea of a national laboratory under the Smithsonian Institution. Zahm used the Aero Club Bulletin to spread the gospel. In the February [7] issue, for instance, he contrasted the "symmetrical, rapid, and continuous" aeronautical progress being made in Europe with the "halting, haphazard, and fortuitous" advances in the United States. The difference, he claimed, was "systematic development." The United States needed "at least one broadly planned aeronautical institute or laboratory possessing ample endowment and equipment, a wise and devoted directorate, an able and a highly trained technical staff." Without mentioning the Smithsonian by name, he made clear where and how he thought the lab should be established:


Wherever an appropriation for an aeronautical establishment may be placed, it is of cardinal importance that the directorate and personnel, as well as the endowment, shall be of the same high character as those found in the leading European countries, if not directly modeled after them, and it would doubtless enhance the prestige and efficiency of the institute to have it connected with an established institution having a reputation in the prosecution of theoretical and applied science.12


The following month, Zahm made clear what the product of this laboratory might be and how it might be used. The "staff of trained specialists," he wrote, "shall furnish physical constants, laws, formulas, and empirical data of substantial and permanent value to the engineer, the inventor, the manufacturer, whose energies should remain free to employ such knowledge to the advancement of important industrial arts." In other words, this lab was to be an aid to American business, to the manufacture and operation of American aircraft, to what Zahm called (in the typically inflated rhetoric of these enthusiasts) "the early and complete commercial realization of a direct, rapid, and universal system of transportation."13

Men from other circles joined the campaign. Professor A. Lawrence Rotch, a meteorologist, seconded Zahm's views and noted that "the establishment of aerodynamical laboratories . . . marks the entrance of aeronautics into the domain of engineering," where "theoretical knowledge based on experiments" would be the foundation of progress. At the request of the Aero Club of America, Rotch served on a committee on aerodynamics chaired by Zahm "to consider the most feasible method of organizing and maintaining an aeronautical laboratory," and he agreed with the committee recommendation that a civilian laboratory be established in the United States under the auspices of the Smithsonian Institution, even though it might duplicate in some respects the research activities planned by the armed services.14 Richard C. Maclaurin, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, added his endorsement to this campaign, noting that "a knowledge of similar branches of applied science should make it clear that having [8] reached our present level, we can go higher only by attacking the problems that remain with the patience and persistence of the scientific spirit." Although Maclaurin affirmed the need for a laboratory, he suggested that it might well be "an enormous advantage to have such experimentation conducted at an institution where there are experts in all departments of science and engineering that have any bearing on aviation."15 (Like MIT, perhaps.)

Captain Chambers also used the Aero Club of America Bulletin to broadcast his message and make peace with the Bureaus of Engineering and of Construction and Repair. Citing the fine contributions already made by the navy's model basin, Chambers suggested that revival of the Langley laboratory at the Smithsonian might provide "an ideal institution which will coordinate the work, not only for the best interests of commerce and business, but for the best interests of the army and navy."16 The advocates of a national laboratory were casting their nets ever wider in an attempt to appease their opponents and establish a proposal acceptable to all.

Chambers capped this activity in September 1912 with the most elaborate and detailed proposal yet made for a national aeronautical laboratory, one that seemed to answer the needs of all the participants to date: the businessmen, enthusiasts, aviators, academics, and military men. In his annual "Report on Aviation" to the Bureau of Navigation, published as appendix I to the Annual Report of the Secretary of the Navy for 1912, Chambers opened with the following summary of the "status of aviation":


The work of established aerodynamic laboratories has transported aeronautics generally into the domain of engineering, in consequence of which aviation has reached a stage of development wherein the methods of scientific engineers have replaced the crude efforts of the pioneer inventors.17


This veiled allusion to Langley and the Wrights was prelude to a proposal for "A National Aerodynamical Laboratory." Contrasting the sorry record of American naval aviation with the progress being made in the major European countries, Chambers attributed the American shortcomings to lack of appropriations and the absence of an aeronautical laboratory. He proposed a national laboratory in Washington to perform "experimental verification," i.e. tests, for " manufacturers, clubs, independent investigators, and other interested parties," and experimental research," i.e., "systematic, thorough, and precise investigation of new ideas, or of old ideas with new applications, with the specific intention of discovering laws and formulas for advancing the progress of aerial navigation." He recommended that the work of the [9] laboratory be selected and supervised by "a council or board, which in England is called the 'advisory committee'" that "should be representative of other Government departments" and "Independent of the director and his administrative staff."

As to the composition of the board, Chambers felt: "The council should not be a large body, but should be composed mostly of specialists of unquestioned ability, men interested in the sane development of aerial navigation in various branches of the Government and in its useful and safe adaptation to commerce and sport."

He wanted to see this laboratory located in Washington, because that city was centrally located; it already harbored similar research at the navy yard and elsewhere; it had the interested government agencies, libraries, and other resources - the Langley laboratory, room for an adequate flying field, and a suitable climate for year-round flying; and it was "a mecca for business people." Eventually, he hoped, "some philanthropic patriot of wealth and scientific interest" would endow the laboratory, as had happened in Europe and as he and many of his fellow enthusiasts had long been expecting would happen here. In the meantime, he estimated that $200,000 would be enough to start the laboratory - provided, that is, that use could be made of the buildings already available at the Smithsonian Institution. Otherwise, "the cost could be considerably more."

Here, in fifteen tightly worded pages, were the rationale and the blueprint for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. The proposal came from a military officer alive to the military and commercial potential of aviation. He was a true believer in aviation, and he saw scientific research as the key to its development. He looked to Europe and saw there a model of what should be done, and a warning of the hazards of delay. Leading a group of supporters from business, government, and academia, and seasoned by an initial failure, Chambers couched his proposal in the broadest possible terms and was careful to leave to established powers the domains they considered peculiarly theirs. The purpose of the lab, as evidenced by its name, was aerodynamics, a subtle but important change from the aeronautical laboratory of earlier proposals. And there was never any doubt that the laboratory itself was the heart of the proposal. The advisory council was simply a mechanism for ensuring that the work of the lab would be well chosen and properly executed. Establishing it within the Smithsonian Institution would ensure that the small lab had proper protection, would provide access to the Langley facilities lying dormant there, and would lend scientific respectability to an undertaking particularly susceptible to commercialism and amateurism. It would also memorialize and revive the scientific achievements of Langley, and thus rescue the science of flight from "the crude efforts of the pioneer inventors."

[10] Chambers's proposal died aborning, but its principal ideas survived. Tracing what had to be abandoned and what retained will disclose the forces most actively at work in the creation of the NACA, forces that imprinted themselves indelibly on the Committee's history and thereby changed its course.




At the end of his 1912 "Report on Aviation," Chambers recommended that a commission be appointed to report to the president "on the necessity or desirability for the establishment of a national aerodynamical laboratory." Before President Taft acted on that recommendation, he suffered a humiliating defeat in the bitterly contested election of 1912, finishing third, behind Woodrow Wilson and (more painful still) his former benefactor Theodore Roosevelt. Furthermore, the election delivered both houses of Congress to the Democrats and revealed that "the country was now overwhelmingly progressive in temper."18 The "sinister special interests" popularly viewed as exploiting the federal government through ties to sympathetic Republicans were to be displaced by a dynamic new government committed to a more Democratic ethic. Chambers and other members of the Aero Club of America had only the remaining four months of a lame-duck administration and Congress to achieve their goals before a new set of officials with a new political philosophy would take office. Working under this pressure, they were at once too hasty and too late.

On 16 December 1912, Secretary of the Navy Meyer recommended to Taft the appointment of the commission suggested by Chambers. Three days later (soon enough to suggest a prior agreement) Taft appointed a 19-man National Aerodynamical Laboratory Commission chaired by Robert S. Woodward, president of the Carnegie Institute of Washington. Chambers was one of the seven members representing government: two each from the army and navy, one each from the Smithsonian Institution, the National Bureau of Standards, and the Weather Bureau. Zahm was among the twelve members from private life: four from aeronautical clubs, four from academic posts, and four whose principal qualification seems to have been membership in the Republican party.19

President Taft could appoint such a commission but, if he wanted public funds to defray its expenses, he needed congressional approval. In 1909, Congress had taken exception to President Roosevelt's use of executive orders to create such presidential satellites as the Uplift Commission of the People of the United States and the Council of Fine Arts, orders which appeared to circumvent Congress and to usurp legislative function. A rider to the 1910 Civil Sundry Act required [11] congressional sanction before public funds could be expended or government employees could serve on such bodies. 20 To meet the requirements of this law, congressmen sympathetic to aviation and the purposes of the Woodward commission introduced legislation in both houses early in January 1913 to approve the commission and provide $5000 to meet its expenses. The Senate bill passed the day after the House Committee on Naval Affairs reported favorably on the House version. Final passage appeared imminent. The commission held its first meeting five days later.21

Agreement was so complete among the members of the commission that the body went about its work with remarkable dispatch. At the first meeting 23 January, a proposal for "the establishment of a national aeronautical laboratory in the District of Columbia for the scientific study of the problems of aeronautics with a view to their practical solution" led quickly to the appointment of a subcommittee to draft legislation. The resulting proposal was forwarded the next day. In most respects it followed up the proposal for a laboratory contained in Chambers' 1912 "Report on Aviation." Apparently in imitation of the Woodward commission itself, the draft called for an advisory committee of 16 members, 6 government and 10 private. Only one feature of the bill was strikingly new: the laboratory was to be "an independent establishment of the government," not an appendage of the Smithsonian Institution or the National Bureau of Standards.22

The following day, 25 January, the entire Woodward commission met, endorsed the proposal, and appointed one of its members (a former congressman) to draft legislation. The bill he circulated 29 January differed from the earlier version only in that it omitted the provision that the laboratory be independent. That single omission was critical: when a quorum of 10 commission members met 5 February to endorse the draft, seven of them came prepared to change it at the last minute to place the laboratory once more "under the direction of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution" as Chambers had wanted all along. Opponents cried foul. Naval Constructor David W. Taylor, director of the Bureau of Construction and Repair's model basin at the Washington navy yard, led the opposition. Taylor had been a principal in the navy's thwarting of Chambers's 1912 plan to have Taft establish an aeronautical laboratory in the Smithsonian, and he was not about to have the same proposition slipped past him with this bit of procedural trickery.23

The ensuing dispute between Chambers and Taylor was more than a mere bureaucratic squabble; they differed over the nature of aeronautical research. Chambers's constant model was Europe, especially the British Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. That body had described its purpose as the scientific study of the problems of flight, a phrase [12] Chambers adopted almost verbatim for his proposal.24 Such scientific research had been the work of Professor Langley, and its natural home seemed to be the Smithsonian, the one body in Washington (the National Academy of Sciences being currently moribund) most closely associated with science. In fact, Chambers's preference for the term "aerodynamical laboratory" reflected his concern for the aspect of aeronautics most closely associated with Langley and most nearly allied to the traditional sciences of physics and fluid mechanics. Had Langley, and science, not been so discredited by the success of the Wrights, Chambers might have been less intent on honoring them by his choice of words and institutions.

Taylor, on the other hand, viewed aeronautics as an engineering problem more properly the concern of the military services, surely out of the domain of the Smithsonian Institution. As he wrote to Professor William F. Durand, another member of the Woodward commission and a distinguished engineer at Stanford University:


This is a matter primarily and fundamentally of engineering research. It may, or may not, be of sufficient importance to warrant an independent establishment for the purpose of following this branch of engineering research. If it is of sufficient importance there should be an independent establishment. The Smithsonian so far as I am aware, has not to any extent entered the field of engineering research. There are at least three departments interested in this matter who are already in the field of engineering research and must necessarily remain therein and if this branch of engineering research is not of sufficient importance to warrant an independent establishment it should undoubtedly be under the direction of some department which is already engaged in this line rather than appropriate money to set up the Smithsonian in duplication of present governmental activities.25


No one who would inflict such a paragraph on a friend should criticize others for duplication. Still, the point was of considerable importance. Before taking on the job of aeronautical research, the federal government needed to know just what it was and to which disciplines and functions it was allied. Richard Maclaurin, for example, sided with Taylor, but for somewhat different reasons. President of MIT, member of the Woodward commission as a representative of academia, and himself an engineer, Maclaurin felt that the laboratory should be located near an institution of higher education presumably one like MIT. "The problems of aeronautics," said Maclaurin, "are engineering problems, and a national aeronautical laboratory should be developed under the stimulus of engineers," echoing a contention he had made earlier in the year in the Aero Club of America Bulletin.26 While [13] admitting the Smithsonian to be "an admirable institution," he found it "not well adapted to exercise the particular functions that the Bill assigns to it."

At the 5 February meeting of the Woodward commission, the Smithsonian advocates won approval of the draft bill. Three of the ten members present - Taylor, General James Allen (author of the original language of an "Independent establishment"), and Charles D. Walcott, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution - abstained. Walcott's abstention seems to have been mere decorum, for Taylor considered him ' to be behind the whole scheme, an empire builder for whom Chambers was a mere "catspaw." Others, though, were strongly opposed to the draft bill and intent on acting. Taylor insisted upon and was granted a final meeting at which all the members would be allowed to vote on the language of the report, and file minority reports if necessary. Another member of the commission Dr. Samuel W. Stratton, director of the National Bureau of Standards and likewise an engineer, who would soon succeed Maclaurin as president of MIT - expressed himself the next day as "very indignant and intending to fight," reportedly because he wanted to see the proposed laboratory set up in his own National Bureau of Standards. Taylor considered Stratton's opposition alone enough to kill the proposal within the commission.27

Realizing that the proposed bill would fail in a vote before the full commission, the friends of the Smithsonian scheme tried two more ploys to have their plan approved. Chambers gave copies of the draft legislation to friendly members of Congress, who introduced it in both houses on 7 February.28 Five days later, Zahm circulated copies of the proposed legislation to members of the Woodward commission for their approval as part of a final report to the president. This version retained the objectionable provision to establish the laboratory under the Smithsonian, but changed the membership of the proposed advisory committee to six government members and only seven private members.29 If the advocates of the Smithsonian scheme thought this alteration would make the rest of the bill palatable either to the majority of the Woodward commission or to Congress, they were soon disappointed. Their actions had served only to make the matter public and to air the "animus" that had developed within the commission.

Maclaurin filed a minority report. Taylor demanded another meeting of the commission. Charges and countercharges of empire-building and personal misconduct spread from the private correspondence of the commissioners into the newspapers. The participants saw in each other's behavior a petty struggling for place. Naval officers reportedly opposed the bill because it had the support of the Weather Bureau, which was trying to take the Hydrographic Office from them, and the Smithsonian Institution, which was trying to take the Naval Observa-....




Samuel W Stratton, director of the National Bureau of Standards and member of the NACA, 1915-1931, showing the stern resolve that he brought to bear in the Woodward commission of 1913. (LaRC)

Samuel W. Stratton, director of the National Bureau of Standards and member of the NACA, 1915-1931, showing the stern resolve that he brought to bear in the Woodward commission of 1913. (LaRC)



...-tory.30 All this, of course, lent more heat than light, and in the wrangling the real issue was largely lost to view. The only exception was a brief notice in the Army and Navy Register, reporting that some officers suspected an attempt by the Smithsonian Institution to lay the groundwork for a cabinet-level department of science. Whether Walcott and the friends of the Smithsonian had so grand a plot afoot, or were simply trying to restore the prestige of Langley and the good name of science, the fundamental issue was: what were to be the respective roles of science and engineering in the federal hierarchy, and in which camp was aeronautics to be located?31 Because the debate was never carried on in those terms, the issue was never resolved.

The idea of an aeronautical laboratory suffered even more grievously at the hands of Congress, which would not pass even a simple resolution to provide funds for the Woodward commission. When it was introduced on the floor of the House for unanimous consent, the powerful majority leader (James R. Mann of Illinois) objected on the grounds that the president had "violated the law" in appointing the commission in the first place, and that the legislative course of the authorizing resolution so far - i.e., through the friendly Committee on Naval Affairs - would give that committee "practically exclusive jurisdiction of the subject of air navigation in the House." Another [15] congressman added the ironic objection that the need for an aeronautical laboratory seemed a foregone conclusion; he would vote for a laboratory, but not for a commission to determine the need for one.32 The resolution authorizing the Woodward commission failed.

So did the bill authorizing a laboratory, when it was introduced four days later. As Aerial Age summarized the issue: "While Congress almost as a whole admits the need of such a laboratory, there are questions of 'peanut politics' to be settled and various warring factions of the government to be consulted before it finally comes to a vote."33 The main obstacle in the House seems to have been Majority Leader Mann, reportedly indignant over the manner in which the whole question had been handled especially Chambers's attempt to locate the laboratory in the Smithsonian against the will of the Woodward commission, an effort he considered "impertinent and impudent" and grounds for court-martial and dismissal from the service. Mann was a close friend of Samuel Stratton, avowed enemy of the bill, and he was "always on the job and able to block any legislation which he [was] strongly opposing."34 Although Chambers and his allies had persuaded the secretaries of the army, the navy, and the Smithsonian Institution to endorse the legislation (perhaps without telling them that the Woodward commission had not officially endorsed it), equally powerful men were contesting it. Stratton had Mann's ear, and Maclaurin was writing from MIT to key senators.35

Considering time to be their enemy and seeing that the 62nd Congress would expire on 4 March before considering their bill, the Chambers forces tried attaching a rider to the Sundry Civil Bill to get some aeronautical research funds for the Smithsonian in the current session. But that plan failed as badly as the bill had; the problem was not time, but lack of support. The Smithsonian advocates had too many enemies and not enough friends in the 62nd Congress. The gap widened in the 63rd. The same bills, reintroduced the following month in the new Congress, died in committee.36




After the failure of the Woodward commission and the Chambers proposals for a laboratory, the leadership of the movement changed. Chambers was transferred to other duties in the navy, and Zahm receded into the background. In their place emerged Charles D. Walcott, the powerful and influential secretary of the Smithsonian Institution who was believed (by Captain Taylor at least) to have been the force behind the movement all along.

Walcott was a remarkable man with a remarkable career already behind him in 1913. Leaving school at age 18 without even the equiva-....



Charles D. Walcott, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution (1907-1927) and chairman of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (1919-1927). (NASA History Archives)

Charles D. Walcott, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution (1907-1927) and chairman of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (1919-1927). (NASA History Archives)



-....lent of a high school diploma, Walcott had followed a natural interest in and talent for paleontology that led him through an assistantship with the state geologist of New York and into the United States Geological Survey, which he joined in 1879. When he left the survey 28 years later to become secretary of the Smithsonian, he had established a worldwide reputation for original research, had published widely, and since 1892 had headed the entire survey, a position given him because of his recognized abilities to get along with people (especially congressmen) and his gift for explaining and justifying scientific research to laymen. These same gifts made him an ideal secretary for the Smithsonian, and from this post he increased the scope of his already catholic activities in behalf of the advancement of science in the United States. He was, for example, instrumental in founding the National Park Service and the Carnegie Institute, in the rejuvenation of the National Academy of Sciences, and less successfully in numerous attempts over the years to arouse interest in a department of science within the federal government.37 His association in the minds of many with the latter movement made his activities in the field of aeronautics somewhat suspect, but his unparalleled political gifts more than overcame that handicap. In sum, he was just the man to guide the aeronautical [17] laboratory movement through the labyrinth of bureaucratic intrigue and congressional politics.

Walcott began his campaign early in 1913 by unilaterally reopening the Langley Aerodynamical Laboratory within the Smithsonian Institution. For this he needed only the approval of the Smithsonian board of regents, which was quickly forthcoming.38 One of the immediate purposes of this move was to honor Langley and his cherished research in aerodromics," but there was more to it than that. Walcott and the Smithsonian had grandiose plans afoot and the reopening of the laboratory was only the first step. Walcott was so anxious to proceed auspiciously and correctly that he even got President Wilson to endorse the scheme beforehand.39

The laboratory activated by Walcott looked remarkably like the one proposed by Chambers. It was to be run by a director, who would be a member of an advisory committee composed of representatives of government agencies concerned with aviation and private interests acquainted with the needs of aeronautics," the total membership not to exceed 14. The advisory committee would be assisted by subcommittees whose chairmen would be drawn from the main committee, though the other members need not be. These subcommittees would supervise and direct the work of the laboratory in conducting and reporting on aeronautical research.

In two respects this laboratory differed from the one envisioned by Chambers. First, it was intended to be merely a nucleus to which would be added "other laboratories and other essential agencies" leading at last to a "Bureau of Aerodromics."40 Walcott was empowered by the Smithsonian's board of regents to use $10,000 of the institution's Hodgkins Fund to reopen the laboratory, to use $5000 a year for five years thereafter to operate it, and to request from Congress $50,000 "for the continuation of aerodromical [aeronautical] investigations under the direction of the Smithsonian Institution."

The most marked difference, however, between Walcott's scheme and the one proposed by Chambers the previous year was a heightened concern for the Progressive ethic recently affirmed by election of Wilson and a Democratic Congress. While the laboratory would conduct such research "as may serve to increase the safety and effectiveness of aerial locomotion for the purposes of commerce, national defense, and the welfare of man," it was in no way to "promote patented devices, furnish capital to inventors, or manufacture commercially, or give regular courses of instruction for aeronautical pilots or engineers." It was to "exercise its function for the military and civil departments of the Government of the United States, and also for any individual, firm, association, or corporation within the United States provided, however, that such department, individual, firm, association, [18] or corporation shall defray the cost of all material used and of all services of persons employed in the exercise of such functions." In sum, the laboratory would use and complement the resources of the federal government for the advancement of aviation in general, scrupulously avoiding the kind of favoritism to special interests that had besmirched the record of Taft and his Republican predecessors in the age of the trusts and the robber barons. Finally, the composition of the advisory committee was modified again from the original Chambers proposal: now, half the members would be from government, the other half from either government or private life. Walcott had in mind eventual government funding for this laboratory, and he clearly wanted its organization and purpose described in terms of the national interest to free it from the taint of Aero Club commercialism and partiality.

The advisory committee met three times, in May, June, and December. It consisted of 11 men: seven government representatives, and four private.41 Virtually all of its work was divided among 16 subcommittees, ranging from Publication and Dissemination of Aeronautical Information to Applied Aerodynamics. All the subcommittees but one were chaired by government members of the advisory committee; the ratio of government to private membership of the subcommittees was about two to one, roughly the same as that of the advisory committee itself.42

The group's first year was devoted almost entirely to surveying the state of the art. Subcommittees in each branch of aeronautics determined what work needed to be done and how it might best be accomplished. Most notably, the full committee sent its recorder, Albert F. Zahm, on a survey of Europe's aeronautical laboratories. Zahm traveled to all the important research establishments in the company of Jerome C. Hunsaker, a young naval officer who went along to prepare himself for teaching a new course in aeronautics at MIT that fall. The two men were greatly impressed with what they saw, and on their return communicated their enthusiasm in reports that reinforced the sentiment within the American aeronautical community favoring a national laboratory.43

But, before this impact could be felt, a new crisis arose. In December 1913, after the third meeting of the advisory committee, Walcott discovered that the same law that had made the Woodward commission technically illegal applied also to the Smithsonian advisory committee. Government members were not allowed to sit on any such committee without congressional approval. Walcott brought this to the attention of the Smithsonian board of regents at their December meeting and was directed by them to take the matter before Congress. Specifically, he was empowered to request of Congress $50,000 to support the work of the laboratory.44 Should such a request be granted, it would have....




Jerome C. Hunsaker was to be a member of the NACA from 1922 to 1923 and again from 1938 until the Committee's demise in 1958; he would chair the Main Committee from 1941 to 1956. (LaRC)

Jerome C. Hunsaker was to be a member of the NACA from 1922 to 1923 and again from 1938 until the Committee's demise in 1958; he would chair the Main Committee from 1941 to 1956. (LaRC)


.....the dual effect of supplementing the limited moneys the Smithsonian was able to supply through the Hodgkins Fund and of giving tacit congressional approval to the committee, thereby resolving the legal technicality that had brought down the Woodward commission.

Walcott took his proposal before Congress in March 1914, arguing before the House Committee on Appropriations that funding the Aerodynamical Laboratory would be in the best interests of the government. It would, he said, help foster commercial aviation in the United States, bringing the U.S. abreast of the Europeans and encouraging an important new means of transportation and communication. At least one of the members of the committee, however, saw in this the nose of the camel: Would not Walcott's laboratory grow into a great new bureau with ever-increasing budgets and scores of new government buildings to fill up the District of Columbia?45 Since the original resolution of the Smithsonian board of regents empowering Walcott to establish the advisory committee had specifically directed the secretary to look to the addition of other agencies and the grouping of them into a "Bureau organization," he could hardly deny the congressman's charge. The current enthusiasm in Washington was for efficiency and streamlining; the prospect of another new agency, perhaps even a "Bureau of Aerodromics," worried some on Capitol Hill more than did [20] the prospect of a lagging and uncoordinated industry. The proposal never got out of committee. In May, Walcott wrote the comptroller' general for confirmation of his belief that the advisory committee was illegal. It was confirmed.46 So Walcott disbanded the Committee and once again deactivated the Langley Laboratory. Another attempt to establish a national aeronautical research establishment had died aborning.




Walcott took up the cause again the following December. In the intervening months, Europe had embarked upon a war that threatened to draw in the United States. President Wilson was determined to remain neutral, but advocates of preparedness insisted that the United States must be ready for war should it come. Although the election of 1914 had endorsed Wilson's neutrality and marked something of a turning away, at least temporarily, from the Progressive enthusiasms that had elected Wilson two years before, still there was in the air in late 1914 enough residual Progressivism and active preparedness to make the aeronautical laboratory idea more appealing to Congress than ever.

If Walcott was to succeed with his project now, he had to avoid the pitfalls fatal to earlier attempts. Bureaucratic objections about duplication of work and infringement of jurisdiction must be answered. The appearance of commercialism or control by private interests, so easy to associate with early Aero Club sponsorship, must be avoided. Congress must not be offended by any show of circumventing congressional intent by unilateral appointment of commissions or committees. A friendly forum must be found on the Hill for introducing the legislation and getting a committee endorsement before bringing it to the floor. Finally, any suspicion entertained by the appropriations committee the previous year that sponsoring a laboratory would inevitably lead to a large new establishment must be dispelled.

The sorry record of past attempts to establish a national aeronautical laboratory may have led Walcott to conclude that his best procedure in 1914 was to propose formation of a modest committee, perhaps on the European model. It should be independent of the Smithsonian Institution, to allay the fear of the military services that empire-building was afoot. Members drawn from private life should not outnumber government members. The armed services should endorse the proposal in draft, and it should then be submitted through friendly congressmen to equally friendly congressional committees, perhaps those on military or naval affairs, where the preparedness fever was at its height.

[21] The more fundamental issue - whether aeronautics was properly in the realm of science or of engineering - would be skirted altogether. In the year since the second closing of the Langley laboratory, Walcott had done everything in his power to restore the reputation of Langley at the expense of the Wright brothers because he was unaware that their use of and respect for science were as great as Langley's. Glenn Curtiss and other Langley supporters had taken the 1903 aerodrome from the Smithsonian to Hammondsport, New York, where they repaired it, altered it, and flew it, proving to their own satisfaction (and for their own purposes) that Langley, as the Smithsonian's Annual Report for 1914 put it, "had succeeded in building the first aeroplane capable of sustained free flight with a man."47 This episode. would return to haunt Walcott and his successor, but in 1914 it left the secretary secure in his convictions and free to ignore the comparative ranking of science and engineering in the laboratory he was planning.

Whether or not Walcott consciously considered all the factors at work, his subsequent actions avoided most of the mistakes of the past. In December 1914 he went once again to his board of regents with the idea of establishing a laboratory. The regents empowered him to form a committee with four of their members, including one representative and one senator, to work out a proposal to present to Congress. By the time this committee met in the Capitol on 30 January 1915, all the groundwork had been laid. Walcott had drafted a memorandum outlining the history of the Smithsonian Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the advances being made in Europe, and the advantages the government might expect from similar activities in the U.S., especially a rationalization and coordination of the aeronautical research already being conducted by the federal government within the armed services and the National Bureau of Standards. This memorandum, which served as the basis of the proposal to Congress, left the laboratory in the background and put the primary focus on the advisory committee. The stated aim was prevention of duplication. The model was the British Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the European establishment that had most impressed Zahm and Hunsaker in the summer of 1913. The proposal was modest. There was no mention of a "Bureau organization."48

When Walcott presented this proposal to the regents' committee on 30 January 1915, it was quickly and wholeheartedly endorsed. In fact, so greased were the rails that the Senate joint resolution had already been introduced by Benjamin R. Tillman, chairman of the Committee on Naval Affairs. The day after Walcott's presentation, one of the members of' the regents' committee, Congressman Ernest W. Roberts, introduced an identical resolution in the House. A slightly modified copy of Walcott's memorandum accompanied each bill.49

[22] The two resolutions were remarkable for their modesty and simplicity.50 Hardly anything in them was controversial. Five short paragraphs gave the rationale of the legislation: The United States, where aviation began, was lagging in aeronautical development behind European nations that were pursuing aeronautical research under government auspices, while aeronautical research in the United States remained scattered, uncoordinated, and wasteful for lack of a central body to provide continuity and prevent duplication. The recommended advisory committee was to consist of 14 members: two each from the War and Navy Departments; one each from the Weather Bureau, the Bureau of Standards, and the Smithsonian Institution; and "not more than seven additional persons who shall be acquainted with the needs of aeronautical science, either civil or military, or skilled in aeronautical engineering or its allied science." The purpose of the committee was "to supervise and direct the scientific study of the problems of flight with a view to their practical solution, and to determine the problems which should be experimentally attacked and to discuss their solution and their application to practical questions." The first half of this formulation was lifted verbatim from the British Advisory Committee for Aeronautics; the second half was a paraphrase of what the British had outlined for themselves. The British had required that their committee "research and experiment into these subjects in a properly equipped laboratory, with a trained staff. "51 That sounded too much like the "Bureau organization" that had raised objections the previous year; the only reference to a laboratory in the 1915 resolution was the proviso that "in the event of a laboratory or laboratories either in whole or in part being placed under the direction of the committee, the committee may direct and conduct research and experiment in aeronautics in such laboratory or laboratories." As if to emphasize the modest role envisioned for this committee, and to eliminate any fears of its being the foundation of a new empire in Washington, the resolution asked for funding of "$5000 a year, or so much thereof as may be necessary, for five years." Gone were the $200,000 and the $100,000 figures bandied about the Smithsonian in earlier years; gone even was the $50,000 Walcott had requested in 1914. This was not a proposal for a national aeronautical laboratory but a modest arrangement for supervising and coordinating the conduct of aeronautical research already being carried out at existing institutions.

There is little evidence of opposition to this seemingly innocuous piece of legislation, at least not within the friendly naval affairs committee to which it was referred. The real problem was time. Would there be enough time to pass the bill before the 63rd Congress expired on 4 March? The major effort was concentrated on the House, where earlier [23] attempts to pass such legislation had been stalled. Two steps were required.

First, approval had to be obtained from the navy. This was forthcoming on 12 February, when Acting Secretary Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote to the chairman of the House Committee on Naval Affairs that he "heartily [endorsed] the principle" on which the legislation was based, though he had two caveats.52 First, he asked for deletion of a section of the resolution lamenting the dearth of aeronautical research carried on by the government, for he believed the navy had "done a great deal to develop the art and the science of aeronautics." "However," he continued, "we will be only too pleased to have an advisory committee that will 'bring about the cooperation of the private activities," an interpretation of the committee's role considerably less grandiose than Walcott and other enthusiasts seem to have had in mind. Roosevelt went on to suggest reduction of the total committee membership to ten, with only three unspecified members joining the seven government representatives identified in the original draft. Said Roosevelt:


The departments of the Government most interested in the development of aeronautics will be the ones that will be coordinated by the advice of this committee, individually carry out the work required, and be responsible for the expenditures of money appropriated by Congress. Therefore, the representatives of the Government should always have the controlling interest in the activities of this proposed committee. The interests of private parties must be more or less commercial and influenced by such considerations. We should guard against even any suspicion that the work of this committee is thus influenced.


Besides restating his concept of the modest role the advisory committee was to play, Roosevelt's qualified endorsement was also good Progressive doctrine. It clearly demanded that the committee place the interests of the government foremost and that its primary function be coordination (i.e., improving efficiency through elimination of duplication and waste).

The second hurdle the joint resolution had to face in the House was Walcott's testifying before the Naval Affairs Committee. He appeared on 19 February, just two weeks before the termination of the 63rd Congress and just one week after Roosevelt's letter was sent to the committee .53 The letter was one of the topics Walcott was asked to address, and he and Congressman Roberts, sponsor of the House resolution and one of the Smithsonian regents, quickly dispensed with the membership issue in what now looks like a prearranged compromise. Walcott said he agreed with the Navy Department that the [24] committee "should be, controlled by the people in connection with the Government who are interested so as to have the Government actually in control of the committee," and that he was not particularly set on having the seven at-large members proposed in the original draft. When Roberts suggested that they compromise at five members from private life to serve with the seven government members, Walcott quickly agreed. All else in Walcott's appearance before the committee was harmony and cordiality. The committee made a few minor changes in wording and sent the draft legislation to the full House the same day.54

By that time, however, chances of passage before the termination of the Congress appeared slight. The crush of business was simply too great. Once more, there was little opposition to the bill, but many doubted that it was important enough to win space on the crowded calendar.55 So Walcott used a tactic he had learned in the Geological Survey in the 1880s, "a period when legislation normally got through only by stealthily clinging to appropriation bills";56 he suggested adding the advisory-committee resolution to the naval appropriations bill, a piece of legislation assured of passage, what with the war in Europe and the bipartisan support then abounding for a strong navy. Chambers had tried this expedient in 1913 and Walcott himself had attempted it in 1914; the difference now was that the Naval Affairs Committees of the two houses had already seen the advisory-committee legislation and were generally in favor of it. They were the two bodies with the opportunity - and the power - to amend the naval appropriations bill and see the amendment through to passage. That is just what they did. The naval appropriations bill, containing 'the joint resolution on an advisory committee for aeronautics, passed both House and Senate on 3 March 1915. President Wilson signed it into law the same day, thus formally creating the Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, as it was called in the legislation, on the last day of the 63rd Congress.57

What, in retrospect, can be said about congressional intent? Not much, except that it differed from the intent of the enthusiasts who had been promoting the legislation for more than four years. Those men wanted to establish an aeronautical research capability in the United States to rival those in Europe and restore the birthplace of modern aviation to a preeminent position. They clearly wanted to create a government laboratory. Most of them wanted to see it established in the name of and on the site of the old Langley laboratory at the Smithsonian Institution, fitting tribute to a man they felt had played a critical role in the advance of American aviation. Others of their number, while willing to involve the United States more actively in aeronautical research, would have preferred to expand existing laboratories like those at the Washington Navy Yard or the Bureau of Standards. [25] They, like the other enthusiasts, considered it essential to have aeronautical research funded by the government and conducted in government laboratories.

Nothing in the history of the 1915 legislation suggests that a majority of congressmen shared this view. What Congress approved was a five-year lease on life for a small advisory and coordinating body, whose purpose was modeled on that of the British Advisory Committee for Aeronautics and whose goal seems to have been that of keeping up with the Europeans. No more than a handful of congressmen, most of them in the two committees on naval affairs, really knew much about the purpose or intent of the amendment to the Naval Appropriations Act. The wording was vague and general, silent on where the advisory committee might go and what it might do. The section about a laboratory seemed an afterthought, and no funds were provided for its operation.

The factors responsible for passage of the legislation were the persistent and enthusiastic sponsorship of a small group of true believers in aviation, the backing of scientists and engineers associated with aeronautics but uncertain how to divide the field between themselves, the good offices of the Smithsonian Institution (which wanted in part, at least, to memorialize the work of Langley), the skillful political maneuvering of Secretary Walcott, the assistance of a few well placed congressmen, the war in Europe that aroused concern for American preparedness, the Progressive enthusiasm for efficiency and distrust of special interests, and the modest scope and general language of the legislation.

The NACA's organic legislation was not a mandate but an opportunity.


321-325] Notes

1. On the scientific accomplishments of the Wright Brothers see George W. Lewis, "The Contributions of the Wright Brothers to Aeronautical Science and Engineering," U.S. Air Services, May 1938, pp. 13-15. For a succinct, informed, and candid account of the contributions of the Wrights and Langley, see Charles H. Gibbs-Smith, The Aeroplane: An Historical Survey of Its Origins and Development (London: Science Museum ,1960) 26-28, 222-34. For an interpretation sympathetic to Langley, see J. Gordon Vaeth, Langley: Man of Science and Flight (New York: Ronald Press, 1966); the Wright version is in Fred C. Kelly, The Wright Brothers: A Biography Authorized by Orville Wright (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1943).

2. Gibbs-Smith, The Aeroplane, p. 59. The characterizations of Langley and the Wrights are from Mark Sullivan, Our Times, 1900-1925 (6 vols; New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1926-1935 [1971]), 1: 566, 568.

3. Walter T. Bonney, The Heritage of Kitty Hawk (New York Norton, 1962), chap. 9. On the paucity of other aeronautical research in the United States, see Aeronautics: First Annual Report of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, 1915 (Washington: NACA, 1916), pp. 12-13. [Annual reports of the NACA will be cited hereafter in the form AR 1915]

4. A. Lawrence Rotch, "Aerial Engineering," Aero Club of American Bulletin 1 (Aug. 1912): 10; Jerome C. Hunsaker, "Europe's Facilities for Aeronautical Research-l," Flying, Apr. 1914, pp. 75, 93, and "Europe's Facilities for Aeronautical Research-II," ibid., May 1914, pp.108-09.

5. Aeronautics: Report of the Advisory Committee for Aeronautics for the Year 1909-1910 (London: HMSO, 1910), pp. 4-5.

6. Gibbs-Smith, The Aeroplane, pp. 59-81.

7. Announcement of the "First Annual Banquet of the Aeronautical Society," (1911). For a copy of this document and others relating to the navy's role in the early efforts to establish an aeronautical laboratory, I am indebted to Lee M. Pearson, who scoured the archives of the Naval Air Systems Command.

8. Jerome C. Hunsaker and Lester D. Gardner, "Background and Incorporation of the Institute of the Aeronautical Sciences," undated typescript, 8 pp., "the first chapter of a history of the I.A.S". Unless otherwise indicated, this document and all other unpublished materials cited in the notes are among the materials collected for the present study. They are retained in the NASA History Office Archives, NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C. See the bibliographic essay, pp. 305-320.

9. Chief, Bureau of Construction and Repair, to Secretary of the Navy, "Relative to Proposed Establishment of an Aeronautical Laboratory in 20 Apr. 1911. On the bureau politics within the navy that lay behind this dispute see Lee M. Pearson, "The Role of the U.S. Navy in Establishing a National Aeronautical Research Agency," typescript of address before the History of Science Society, New York, 28 Dec. 1956. Hunsaker believed Pearson overstated the importance of inter-bureau competition and issued the significance of the scientific community; Hunsaker did, however, admit the plausibility of a basic tension between science and technology suggested by Pearson. Hunsaker to Pearson, 29 Nov. 1956. Hugh L. Dryden confirmed for Hunsaker at least part of Pearson's position, "that Naval officers played a predominant role in the Pre-NACA days and in its formation". Dryden to Hunsaker, 17 Aug. 1956.

The argument about the similarity of aerodynamics and hydrodynamics had merit. One of the most important papers ever published in aerodynamics, Ludwig Prandtl's "Uber Flussigkeirsbewegung bei sehr pleiner Reibung," was based on research on the flow of water, not air. (Originally published in the Proceedings of the Third International Mathematical Congress, Heidelberg, 1904 [Leipzig: Teubner, 1905], the paper was republished by the NACA in 1928 as TM-452, "Motion of Fluids with Very Little Viscosity".)

10. Sec. of the navy to sec. of war, 18 May 1911, quoted in Bonney, "So Much, So Quietly....," unpublished draft of history of the NACA, n.d., p. 26-13.

11. Archibald D. Turnbull and Clifford L, Lord, History of United States Naval Aviation (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1949), pp 16-17.

12. A[lbert] F. Zahm, "On the Need for an Aeronautical Laboratory in America," Aero Club of America Bulletin, Feb. 1912, p. 35.

13. Zahm, "Uses of an Aeronautical Laboratory," ibid., Mar. 912, p. 15.

14. Rotch, "Aerial Engineering," ibid., Aug. 1912, pp. 9-10.

15. Richard C. Maclaurin, "The Sore Need of Aviation," ibid., p. 7

16. W. I[rving] Chambers, "Remarks on Some Developments in Aviation," ibid., May 1912, p. 28.

17. Chambers's "Report on Aviation" filled pp. 155-69 of the secretary's Annual Report.

18. Arthur S. Link, Woodrow Wilson and the Progressive Era, 1910-1917, The New American Nation Series (New York and Evanston: Harper and Row, 1954) p-29

19. Meyer to the president, 16 Dec. 1912. The membership of the commission is given in Rudolph Forster to Meyer, 20 Dec. 1912: in addition to Woodward, Chambers, and Zahm, it consisted of Charles D. Walcott, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution; S. W. Stratton, director of the Bureau of Standards; William J. Humphrey of the Weather Bureau; James Allen and Samuel Reber of the army; David W. Taylor of the navy; M. B. Sellers of the Aeronautical Society; Henry A. Wise Wood of the Aero Club of America; Bion J. Arnold of the Aero Club, Chicago; W. F. Durand of Stanford University; Richard Maclaurin of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Charles M. Manly, Langley's pilot; Harold M. Sewall; Herbert Parsons; Frederick H. Smith; and Frank West Rollins. Biographical information on the members appears in Bonney, "So Much, So Quietly.....," pp. 2d-25, 26. The government members were from institutions exactly parallel to those represented on the British Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the National Bureau of Standards being the counterpart of the National Physical Laboratory and the Smithsonian representing the Royal Society of London. The National Academy of Sciences is perhaps more properly the counterpart of the Royal Society, but the Academy was moribund at the time and the Smithsonian was the real institutional head of American science.

20. Paul G. Dembling to John F. Victory, "Legislative Reasons for Section 9, 35 Stat. 1027 (of March 1909)," 28 Nov. 1951. The pertinent section read:

That hereafter no part of the public moneys, or of any appropriation heretofore or hereafter made by Congress, shall be used for the payment of compensation or expenses of any commission, council, board or other similar body, or any members thereof, or for expenses in connection with any work or the results of any work or action of any commission, council, board, or other similar body, unless the creation of the same shall be or shall have been authorized by law; nor shall there be employed by detail, hereafter or heretofore made, or otherwise [sic] personal services from any executive department or other government establishment in connection with any such commission, council, board, or other similar body. Walter Bonney believed that this law was additionally prompted by presidential commissions that too thoroughly investigated congressional misconducted. "So Much, So Quietly.... ," pp.2d-26

21. The best account of the legislation concerning the Woodward commission and the laboratory it tried to establish is in Richard P. Hallion, "To Study the Problems of Flight: The Creation of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, 1911-1915," unpublished typescript, 1976, pp. 6-10. Even this admirable account, however, leaves some unanswered, wrote the questions. The assistant secretary of the Chambers that "the bill has been passed by the Senate and assurance has been received that it will be passed by the House of Representatives on January 19, 1913". (Beekman Winthrop to Chambers, 17 Jan. 19 13.) The 17th was the day on which the House bill was reported out favorably by the Committee on Naval Affairs, but the day before the Senate voted on its bill. (House Committee on Naval Affairs, Aerodynamical Laboratory, 62d Cong., 3d sess. (hereafter 62/3), 1913, H. Rept. 1343; and Congressional Record, 62/3, 1913, vol. 49, pt. 2, 1258, 1396, 1479, 1481, 1695, 1725, 1786.) The Senate bill was not, as Dr. Hallion states, introduced by Representative Hobson on 20 Jan.; rather, it was referred on that date by the Senate to the House Committee on Appropriations. What was to become the House version of the bill was introduced by Hobson on 13 Jan. and referred to the Committee on Naval Affairs. This seems to have been the rub, for Representative Mann later objected to this bill because it had come through the Committee on Naval Affairs; apparently he wanted it to come by normal channels from the Senate through the House Appropriations Committee. (U.S. Congress, Congressional Record, 62/3, 1913, 49, pt. 3: 2507-09.) In any event, the bill failed of passage in the House on 19 Jan., despite Winthrop's optimism. Still, his opinion that "Congressional sentiment favors an early report from the Commission" no doubt influenced Chamber's recommendation that meetings begin even without congressional sanction.

22. "Digest of the Minutes of the Meeting of the Aerodynamical Laboratory Commission," apparently prepared by Zahm shortly after the last meeting on 5 Feb.; report of the drafting subcommittee to Chairman Woodward, 24 Jan., 5 pp., unsigned copy, typescript with handwritten changes.

23. Taylor reported these events to William F. Durand in a letter of 8 Feb. 1913.

24. See n. 51.

25. Taylor to Durand, 13 Feb. 1913.

26. Maclaurin to Senator W. Murray Crane, 14 Feb. 1913. See also n. 15.

27. Taylor to Durand, 8 Feb. 1913.

28. Hallion, "To Study the Problems of Flight," p. 8; U.S. Congress, Congressional Record, 62/3, 1913, 49, pt. 3: 2682, 2763.

29. Draft, "Report of the Aerodynamical Laboratory Commission," 12 Feb. 1913.

30. Bonney, "So Much, So Quietly....," pp. 2d-31 through 33.

31. Army and Navy Register (22 Feb. 1913), p. 235.

32. U.S. Congress, Congressional Record, 62/3, 1913, 49, pt. 3: 2507-09.

33. Aerial Age, Mar. 1913. p. 5.

34. Taylor to Durand, 8 Feb. 1913.

35. Meyer to Senator George Peabody Wetmore, 11 Feb. 191 asst. secy. of war to chairman, Senate Committee on the Library, 12 Feb. 1913; Charles Walcott to Wetmore, 12 Feb. 1913; Maclaurin to Wetmore, 27 Feb. 1913.

36. Hallion, "To Study the Problems of Flight," p. 9; U.S. Congress, Congressional Record, 63/1, 1913, 50, pt. 2: 81, 89, 194. See also Alexander Graham Bell, "Home Notes" for 20 Feb. 1913, 5 pp., handwritten ins. Bell here records an interview with Chambers in which the latter enlisted his support in getting the rider attached to the Sundry Civil Bill. Bell noted that he and other regents of the Smithsonian were reluctant it to request funds of Congress. Without the endorsement of all the regents who were members of Congress (which Chambers did not have) there was little likelihood of passage.

37. Ellis L. Yochelson, "Charles Doolittle Walcott, 1850-1927: A Biographical Memoir," National Academy of Sciences Biographical Memoirs, vol. 39 (New York and London: Columbia University Press, 1967), pp. 471-540. A. Hunter Dupree says Walcott was chosen by his predecessor as chief of the Geological Survey because he was the "assistant with the hardiest exterior for political abuse." Science in the Federal Government: A History of Policies and Activities to 1940 (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1957), p. 217.

38. This account of the circumstances leading up to the reopening of the Langley laboratory derives largely from "Advisory Committee on the Aerodynamical Laboratory," Smithsonian pub. 2222 (Washington, 17 July 1913), Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, vol. 62, no. 1, pp. 1-5. The latter report was apparently prepared by Albert Zahm, recorder of the Advisory Committee of the Langley Aerodynamical Laboratory. The actual mechanism used was that Walcott proposed the laboratory to the Smithsonian Board of Regents at its regular meeting on 13 Feb. 1913. The board then appointed a committee consisting of George Gray, Alexander Graham Bell, and John Dalzell to study the proposal and consider using part of the Smithsonian's Hodgkin's Fund. The committee reported to the board at a special meeting on 1 May, where its recommendations were approved and in fact enlarged upon.

39. Walcott to Wilson, 8 May, and Wilson to Walcott, 9 May 1913, both reprinted in the "Minutes of First Meeting of the Advisory Committee of the Langley Aerodynamical Laboratory," 23 May 1913.

40. The term Bureau of Aeronautics appeared in the original Board of Regents authorization, but not in the official publication "Advisory Committee on the Langley Aerodynamical Laboratory," which appeared the following summer. Still, even that formal document stated that the Board of Regents had authorized the secretary "to add, as means are provided, other laboratories and agencies; Land to group them into a bureau organization".

41. The army and navy each requested two chairs on the committee, because "of the magnitude of their aeronautical interests". The resulting composition was Chambers and Naval Constructor H.C. Richardson from the navy, Brig. Gen. George P. Scriven and Maj. Edgar Russel from the army, Stratton from NBS, W.J. Humphreys of the Weather Bureau, Walcott, and four members at large: Glenn H. Curtiss, John Hays Hammond, Orville Wright, and Zahm. At the time, Zahm was attached to the Smithsonian Institution; the other three were from private life. Cornelius Vanderbilt and Harold F. McCormick had declined to serve. "Minutes of First Meeting of the Advisory Committee of the Langley Aerodynamical Laboratory, May 23, 1913".

42. Subcommittees on the following topics were organized and chairmen appointed: at


1. Collection and correlation of aeronautical information (Zahm)
2. Publication and dissemination of aeronautical information (Zahm)
3. Aeronautical meteorology (Humphreys)
4. Comparative tests and standardization of instruments, motors, and propellers; tests of the tensile, compressive, and bending strengths, and elasticity, weight, etc., of various materials used in aeronautical construction and determination of aeronautical constants (Stratton)
5. Hydro-mechanic experiments in relation to aeronautics (Richardson)
6. Naval aircraft (sic) design (Chambers)
7. Military air craft design (Russel)
8. Field experiments with naval aircraft (Chambers)
9. Field experiments with military aircraft (Scriven)
10. Air craft communication (John Hays Hammond)
11. Experimental aircraft factory (Richardson)
12. Laboratory buildings and equipment (Walcott)
13. Air craft appliances (Scriven)
14. Natural flight (No chairman)
15. Mathematical principles of aeronautics (No chairman) ("Minutes," pp. 9-10.)


At the second meeting, in June, the titles of committees 6, 7, and 11 were altered slightly and a committee on applied aerodynamics (Zahm) was added. Note the similarity of this committee structure to that of the early NACA, as set for the in appendix B.

43. In Apr. 1913 Richard C. Maclaurin of MIT had ask the secretary of the navy to detail junior Naval Constructor Jerome C. Hunsaker to MIT for three years to prepare a course of instruction and conduct research in aeronautics. Chambers, who was privy to this request, recommended approval, in spite of his earlier disagreement with Maclaurin on the Woodward commission and his continuing suspicion that a, Maclaurin was engaged in empire building in Cambridge. When the proposal was approved in June, Maclaurin asked further that Hunsaker be sent to Europe that summer so that he could bring to his post in the fall an up-to-date familiarity with the best aeronautical research and instruction going on there. Chambers brought this plan to Walcott's attention, and the decided to send Zahm as well, perhaps so that MIT would not get an undue advantage over advisory committee in currency and expertise. Maclaurin to sec. of the navy, 22 April 1913 12d endorsement by Chambers, 6 May 19 13; Josephus Daniels to Mac Lauren [sic:l 1913; Maclaurin to Daniels, 14 June 1913; Hallion, "To Study the Problems of Flight" P. 1 3.

Both published reports of their trip: Zahm, "Report of European Aeronautical Laboratories," 27 July 1914, reprinted in Zahm, Aeronautical Papers (2 vols.; Notre Dame, Ind.: Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 1950), 1: 319-42; Hunsaker "Europe's Facilities for Aeronautical Research."

44. Hallion, "To Study the Problems of Flight," pp. 14-15.

45. House Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee in Charge of the Sundry Civil Appropriation Bill of 1915, hearings, 63d Cong., 2d sess., 19 , pp. 419 29. (Congress and session will hereafter be cited in the form 63/2.)

46. Walcott to George E. Downey, 16 Mar. 1914; Downey t, Walcott, 17 Mar. 1914.

47. This was the real beginning of what came to be called the Wright-Langley controversy, though as Orville Wright wrote to Smithsonian Sec: Charles G. Abbot on 28 Sept. 1928 it was really "a 'Walcott-Wright' or a 'Smithsonian-Wright but not a 'Langley-Wright' controversy". (See note 1.) With his accustomed brevity and clarity, Hunsaker summarized the controversy in a letter to C.G. Grey in 1943, the year after Abbot finally published an account of the whole affair acceptable to Orville Wright:

More precisely, you should refer to the Wright-Smithsonian argument. There has never been any argument with Langley, but a very hot patent fight between [Glenn] Curtiss and Wright in which Curtiss cited Langley's work as prior art in an effort to break the Wright patent. The Smithsonian evidently was maneuvered into aiding Curtiss, possibly through sentimental regard for Langley as their former head. This aid came to nothing as the suit was dropped, but the fat has been in the fire ever since so far as Orville Wright was concerned. Our friends [Griffith] Brewer and Zahm were fairly diligent in feeding the flames. At long last, Brewer has won out, in the form of Dr. Abbot's handsome retraction. Orville is satisfied and no real harm is done to Langley, whose merits as a pioneer Orville freely acknowledges.

Langley's friends claimed too much for the possibilities of a vehicle they did not understand, and the Smithsonian officials were too eager to accept such views. Hunsaker to Grey, 31 Mar. 1943, in National Archives and Records Service, Washington National Records Center, Record Group 255, Records of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, accession 57 A 415, box 79, folder 74-5. (Hereafter, all such entries will be in the form 57 A 415 (79), 74-5.)

48. See "Documentary History of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics", unpublished ms., p. 1-16, which reproduces the appropriate "Extract from Proceedings of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution," for I Dec. 1914; Walcott's memorandum to the committee on the Langley laboratory, dated 30 ' an. 1915; and the minutes of the meeting of that committee held on the same day in Senator or Stone's office at the Capitol. Members of the committee were Alexander Graham Bell, Senator William J. Stone, Congressman Ernest W. Roberts, John B. Henderson, Jr., and Walcott. Walcott's memorandum, slightly modified, served as a memorial to accompany the proposed resolution.

49. On 29 Jan. 1915 Senator Tillman introduced two identical Senate joint Resolutions, S.J.R. 229 for referral to the Committee on Naval Affairs and S.J.R. 230 for referral to the Committee on Military Affairs. Roberts introduced House Joint Resolution 413 on I Feb. 1915; it was referred to the Committee on Naval Affairs. U.S. Congress, Congressional Record, 63/3, 1915, 52, pt. 3: 2656, 2827.

50. H.J. Resolution 413 is reprinted in appendix H.

51. Aeronautics: Report of the Advisory Committee for Aeronautics for the Year 1909-1910, p. 5. The British further provided that their advisory committee was "also to determine the problems which the experimental branch should attack, and discuss their solutions and their application to practical questions". In the American legislation, this was rendered as "to determine the problems which should be experimentally attacked and to discuss their solution and their application to practical questions". The British explicitly stated that "the construction and use of dirigibles and aeroplanes having regard mainly to their employment in war" were duties for the Admiralty and the War Office, whereas the American wording studiously avoided those troubled waters altogether.

52. Roosevelt to L.P. Padgett, 12 Feb. 1915. This letter is reproduced in appendix H.

53. Walcott's testimony is reprinted in "Documentary History f the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics," pp. 64 ff. The original is in House Committee on Naval Affairs, Hearings on Estimates Submitted by the Secretary of the Navy, 1916 (3 vols.; Washington, 1916), 2: 1799-1813.

54. U.S. Congress, Congressional Record, 63/3, 1915, 52, pt. 4: 4165.

55. According to the House Manual (73/2, H. Doc. 413, sec. 397), joint resolutions "are used for what may be called incidental, unusual, or inferior purposes of legislation...." Quoted in Laurence F. Schmeckebier and Roy B. Eastin, Government Publications and Their Use (rev. ed.; Washington: Brookings Institution, 1961), p. 193n. Although, as Mark Twain once described it, "Congress was expiring, and was passing bill after bill as if they were gasps and each likely to be its last" (with William Dudley Warner, The Gilded Age, A Tale of Today [(Hartford: American Publishing Co., 1873; New York: New American Library, 1969)], p. 392), the advisory committee resolution was just the sort of minor bill that could get lost in the shuffle. As it happened, the House version did come up for a vote in the evening session the day before the 63d Congress expired, but by then the measure had already passed as a rider on the Naval Appropriations Bill. Neither Senate resolution reached the floor.

56. Dupree, Science in the Federal Government, p. 217. Although Dupree thinks that NACA was created by a "trick" and that the appropriation-bill rider was a devious method "of winning congressional approval, "he does not look upon it as wanton political immorality". He maintains:

Legislating scientific bureaus into existence was a technically difficult problem with which the machinery of Congress could not cope directly. Most of the people's representatives in the late nineteenth century had little background for science or appreciation of its results. Indeed, 1865 to 1900 was not a great period for legislation on any subject. Hence the appropriation-bill rider allowed a small number of congressmen, adequately coached by experts, to legislate in the interests of science. Theirs was a constructive achievement, their circumventions detouring ignorance and lethargy, not the rights of a vigilant people. (p. 291)

While Dupree thinks that "the Progressive Era [saw] a wider appreciation of the use of science in the public interest," the creation of the NACA seems to conform more to his description of the late nineteenth century, the period when Walcott learned the ways of Washington politics.

57. U.S. Congress, Congressional Record, 63/3, 1915, 2, p 5, pp. 4600-26, 4694-4716, 4869, 4839, 5209-16. The Naval Appropriations Bill for 1916 , H.R. 20975, was called up on 25 Feb. 1915. The NACA amendments were agreed to without debate, most floor discussion being devoted to personnel policies and submarines. The conference committee adopted the House version calling for five private members for the NACA, as opposed to three in the Senate version. The conference report (S. Doc. 966, H Rept. 1500) was presented in both houses on 2 Mar. The NACA amendment was never mentioned on the floor of either house. The bill passed and was signed into law by President Wilson on 3 Mar. 1915. See appendix A.