Human Journey

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.
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.
  • Jeff Hertrick

    Cathy: Thank you for resurrecting this from the sometimes forgotten treasure trove known as the National Geographic archives! My parents took me to Kitty Hawk, NC as a 7 -year-old many, many years ago, and it’s an interesting “back-end” insight into the life and thoughts of Orville Wright.

  • Cathy Newman

    As addendum you might like knowing that Luis Marden loved speed, but he also appreciated more leisurely forms of travel. In his early days at the magazine he would set sail under the flag of the great steamship companies like Cunard. Later, forced to travel by plane, he wrote a friend. “I was so pressed for time (the prevailing sickness of our age) that I had to fly.”

  • Thom McCann

    i wonder what other secrets have gone on between inventors and scientists will show up in the fiuture.

  • Joseph Kimani

    Wow, its great to uncover these secrets between inventors and scientists. I want more 🙂

  • Drae’Ven Green

    Orville preferred nothing be said about that, but I guess it’s too late now…

About the Blog

Researchers, conservationists, and others share stories, insights and ideas about Our Changing Planet, Wildlife & Wild Spaces, and The Human Journey. More than 50,000 comments have been added to 10,000 posts. Explore the list alongside to dive deeper into some of the most popular categories of the National Geographic Society’s conversation platform Voices.

Opinions are those of the blogger and/or the blogger’s organization, and not necessarily those of the National Geographic Society. Posters of blogs and comments are required to observe National Geographic’s community rules and other terms of service.

Voices director: David Braun (

Social Media