Orville Wright’s Revealing Letter to a National Geographic Icon

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

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

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

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

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

Human Journey

Cathy Newman began her career writing for the Miami News, before joining the staff of National Geographic Magazine where she was Editor at Large. In addition to dozens of articles for the magazine, she is the author of three books for National Geographic. Perfume: The Art and Science of Scent, Women Photographers at National Geographic, and Fashion. She is a regular contributor to Smithsonian Journeys.