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If ever you knew a Yankee lad,

Wise or otherwise, good or bad,

Who seeing the birds fly, wouldn’t jump

With flapping arms from stake or stump.

Or spreading the tail of his coat for a sail,

take a soaring leap from post or rail,

and wonder why he couldn’t fly

and flap and flutter and wish and try.

Darius Green & His Flying Machine, by John T. Trowbridge, 1870

John T. Trowbridge wrote his renowned poem in 1870, and it took the fancy of youngsters of that time as well as subsequent generations. I’m sure that also, consciously or unconsciously, it inspired some of those youngsters, as they grew up, to transform their earth-bound bicycles into flying machines. You can read the full poem at bottom of the page.


It’s now so common to jump onto an airplane for our holidays, it’s easy, in the 21st century, to take flying for granted. But the first sustained flight with a powered, controlled aircraft was not really that long ago – in 1903 (presumably the Wright Brothers’ Flyer I, but possibly Alberto Santos-Dumont’s 14-Bis).

There had been airplane designs and concepts over the years, stretching back centuries; it wasn’t until the early 1900s that propeller planes made those ideas a reality. The propeller mounted on the Wright Brothers’ plane was driven by manpower, using a system based on the Wright Brothers’ bicycle designs.

Many enthusiasts and inventors built pedal-aeroplanes, especially after Robert Peugeot of France offered a prize for the first flight of a distance of 10 metres or 33 feet, in 1912.

There were many attempts at this, and Peugeot gave several consolation prizes, some of them for distances less than the long-jump record of the time which was 7.61 metres (Peter O’Connor in Dublin, 5 Aug 1901). But the prize was not won for nine years.


Above, Paul Didier with the winged bicycle upon which hew recently ‘flew’ a distance of 10 yards. Note the small dimensions of the planes.

Below: Didier making his marvellous jump at the Parc des Princes, Paris. He is clearing a rod 8″ from the ground.


It was a cold December morning, with low clouds scudding across the sky, blown by a gusty wind that would have sent hats flying in a city street. Sometimes the sun broke through for a moment, as though it was anxious not to miss the great event that was soon to take place below.

The place was Kitty Hawk, a curious name for a stretch of barren sand-dunes that were rather like a corner of the Sahara Desert. But the name had the right sound for the place where man was going to fly an aeroplane for the first time.

Across a flat stretch of sand two clever young men had laid down what looked like a single railway line. On this rested a little two-wheeled trolley, and mounted on the trolley was a most curious contraption of wood and cloth and metal.

This was the aeroplane – the ‘flying machine’ – that two brother had built. To us, looking back over the years to 1903, it might be taken for a large kite. But to the Wright Brothers who had built it, it was the pride of their hearts, the result of years of work and experimenting. And indeed, on a closer look at that contraption resting like an ungainly bird on its roght plank trollety, it was not such a simple affair. it had two wings, a tail with two rudders, elevators, two propellers, an engine, controls and a place for the pilot.

It is true that the wings were flimsy, the tail seemed to be in front instead of behind, the propellers were a peculiar shape and were driven by chains like a bicycle, the engine had about the power of a motor-bike, and the pilot lay face downwards precariously on the wing, without so much as a windscreen to protect him.

The Wright Brothers, by Bruce Carter, 1955

The Wright brothers, Orville (August 19, 1871 – January 30, 1948) and Wilbur (April 16, 1867 – May 30, 1912), were credited with inventing and building the world’s first successful airplane and making the first controlled, powered and sustained heavier-than-air human flight, on December 17, 1903. In the two years afterward, the brothers developed their flying machine into the first practical fixed-wing aircraft. Although not the first to build and fly experimental aircraft, the Wright brothers were the first to invent aircraft controls that made fixed-wing powered flight possible.

The brothers’ fundamental breakthrough was their invention of three-axis control, which enabled the pilot to steer the aircraft effectively and to maintain its equilibrium. This method became standard and remains standard on fixed-wing aircraft of all kinds. From the beginning of their aeronautical work, the Wright brothers focused on developing a reliable method of pilot control as the key to solving “the flying problem”. This approach differed significantly from other experimenters of the time who put more emphasis on developing powerful engines. Using a small homebuilt wind tunnel, the Wrights also collected more accurate data than any before, enabling them to design and build wings and propellers that were more efficient than any before. Their first U.S. patent, 821,393, did not claim invention of a flying machine, but rather, the invention of a system of aerodynamic control that manipulated a flying machine’s surfaces.

They gained the mechanical skills essential for their success by working for years with printing presses, bicycles, motors, and other machinery. The Wright Brothers had become interested in bicycles in the early 1890s, as the safety bicycle started to become popular. Each of them bought one, with Orville taking up racing, doing well in local events. They soon noticed how many people wanted bicycles. So, in 1893, they set up a bicycle shop across the street from their printing business. They repaired bikes as well as selling them, and soon realized they could build better machines than those they were selling. Soon they began designing and building their own, culminating in the ‘Wright Special.’

Their work with bicycles in particular influenced their belief that an unstable vehicle like a flying machine could be controlled and balanced with practice. From 1900 until their first powered flights in late 1903, they conducted extensive glider tests that also developed their skills as pilots. Their bicycle shop employee Charlie Taylor became an important part of the team, building their first aircraft engine in close collaboration with the brothers.

The Wright brothers’ status as inventors of the airplane has been subject to counter-claims by various parties. Much controversy persists over the many competing claims of early aviators.



Here’s a wonderful chance for every boy to get into flying. Here’s the chance you’ve been waiting for. Don’t miss it. Read every word of this advertisement – and then get ready to enjoy some real flying thrills. You want to fly, of course. Every red-blooded boy does. Now you can! Just send us 25c and get our easy plans for making a genuine Glide-O-Bike. Any boy can build it in a jiffy.

Once you read the Glide-O-Bike adverts more closely, you realize that with the plans you buy for 25c you don’t actually build a bike that flies, rather you create a bike whose front wheel lifts off. Nevertheless, it’s a great idea and I’m sure lots of youngsters made some decent pocket money:

‘Other fellows will be glad to pay you 10c to 25c a ride. Operate your own airport. With every set of plans, we send you free instructions for starting and operating a Glide-O-Bike airport like the one in the picture.’



Written by John T. Trowbridge …in 1870


If ever you knew a Yankee lad,

Wise or otherwise, good or bad,

Who seeing the birds fly, wouldn’t jump

With flapping arms from stake or stump.

Or spreading the tail of his coat for a sail,

take a soaring leap from post or rail,

and wonder why he couldn’t fly

and flap and flutter and wish and try.

If ever you knew a country dunce

who wouldn’t try that as often as once.

All I can say is that’s a sign

he never would do for a hero of mine.

An aspiring genius, was Darius Green.

The son of a farmer, age fourteen.

His body was long, lank and lean.

Just right for flying, as will be seen.

He had two eyes as bright as a bean

and a speckled nose that grew between.

A little awry, for I must mention

that he had riveted his attention

upon his wonderful invention.

And he twisted his tongue as he twisted the strings,

and he worked his face as he worked with wings.

And with every turn of gimlet and screw,

twisting and screwing his mouth around too,

’til his nose seemed bent to catch the scent,

around some corner, of new baked pies.

And his wrinkled cheeks and squinting eyes

grew puckered into a queer grimace

that made him look very droll in the face,

and also very wise.

And wise he must have been,

to do more Than ever a genius had done before.

Excepting Daedalus of yore, and his son Icarus.

Who wore upon their backs those wings of wax

he had read about in the old Almanacs.

Darius was clearly of the opinion

that the air was also man’s dominion.

And that with paddle or fin or pinion

we soon or late shall navigate

the azure, as now we sail the sea.

The thing looks simple enough to me.

And if you doubt it,

see how Darius reasoned about it.

“The birds can fly, an why can’t I?

Must we give in? says he with a grin,

that the Blue bird and Feeby

Are smarter than we be?”

“Just fold our hands and see the Swalla,

and the Black bird and the Cat bird beat us holla?

Or tell me that chatterin’ sassy little wren knows more ‘en men?

Just show me that. Or prove that the bat

has got more brains than’s in my hat,

an I’ll back down. An not till then.”

“He argued further. Nor, I can’t see,

what’s the use of the wings to the bumble bee,

to git a livin’ with, mor’en to me?

Ain’t my business importanter than hissen is?”

“That Icarus was a silly, him and his daddy Deadalus.

They mighta knowed that wings made of wax

wouldn’t stand sun heat or hard whacks.

I’ll make mine of luther or sumfin or udder.”

“But I ain’t never goin’ to show my hand

to mummies who never could understand

the first idea that big and grand.

They’d a laughed and made fun

of creation itself, afore it was done.”

So he kept his secret from all the rest,

Safely buttoned within his vest.

And in the loft above the shed,

He locks himself with needle and thread,

and hammers and buckles and screws,

and all such things as geniuses use.

Two dead bats for patterns, curious fellows,

a charcol pot and a pair of bellows,

a carriage cover for tail and wings,

a piece of harness and straps and strings,

and a big strong box in which he locks

These and other things.

His grinning brothers, Reuben and Burke,

and Nathan and Jathan and Solomon lurk,

around the corner to see him work.

Sitting cross legged like a Turk.

And boring the holes with a comical quirk

of his wise old head and a knowing smile.

But vainly they mounted each others backs

and peeked through knot holes and pried through cracks,

With wood from the pile, and straw from the stack

he stopped up the knot holes and caulked up the cracks.

And a bucket of water that one would think

he had brought up into the loft to drink,

stood always nigh, for Darius was sly.

At chink or crevice a blinking eye,

and he let a dipper of water fly.

“Take that! And if ever ye git a peep

I guess ye’ll catch a weasel asleep!

And he sings as he locks his big strong box.

The weasels head is small and trim.

And he is little and long and slim.

And quick of motions, and nimble of limb.

An if ye’ll be advised by me,

keep wide awake, when ye are catching ‘im.

“‘Twas the fourth of July and the weather was dry.

Not a cloud was in all the sky,

excepting a few fleeces here and there, half mist, half air,

like foam on the ocean went floating by.

And ’twas the loveliest morning that ever was seen

for a nice little trip in a flying machine.

Thought cunning Darius, now I’ll not go

along with the other fellows to see the show.

I’ll say “I’ve got such a cough!”

An when the other folks had all gone off,

I’ll have full swing to try the thing,

and practice a little on the wing.

“What! Ain’t goin’ to the celebration?” says Burke.

“Sure guess ye better go!”. But Darius says “No”.

Botheration. “I, I’ve got such a tooth ache.

My, my, Seems as though I should fly.

Shouldn’t wonder if ye’d see me though, long about noon,

if I git rid of this jumpin’, thumpin’ pain in my head”.

For, all the time to himself he said, “I’ll tell you what.

I’ll fly a few times round the lot,

to see how it seems. An soon’s I’ve got

the hang of the thing, as likely as not,

I’ll astonish the nation, an’ all creation

by flyin’ over the celebration.”

“Over their heads I’ll sail like an eagle.

I’ll balance myself on my wings like a seagull.

I’ll light on the chimney. I’ll dance on the steeple.

I’ll flap up to the windows, an scare all the people.

I’ll light on the liberty pole and crow.

And I’ll say to the gasping fools below,

“What world’s this ‘eer, that I’ve come near?

For I’ll make em think I’m a chap from the moon.

And I’ll try a race with their ol’ balloon.”

His brothers had gone but a little way

when Nathan to Jathan chanced to say,

“What on earths he up to, Hey?

Oh, I don’t know. There’s sompin’ or other though to pay,

or he’d never stayed home today.”

Says Burke, “His tooth ache’s all in his eye.

He’d never miss a fourth of July

if he hadn’t some old machine to try.”

Then Solomon, the little one, spoke.

“Let’s hurry back, an hide in the barn

an’ pay him for tellin’ us that yarn.”

Agreed! And through the orchard they all crept back,

yonder that fence and back of the stack,

and through a hole in the wall they did crawl,

dressed in their Sunday garments all.

And what a wonderful sight was that

when each in his cobweb coat and hat

came up through the floor, like an ancient rat.

And there they hid. And Reuben slid

the fastenings back, and the door undid.

“Keep in the dark!” says he,

“while I squint, And see what there is to see.”

As knights of old put on their mail,

from head to foot an iron suit,

iron jacket and iron boot

iron britches, and on the head

No hat, but an iron pot instead,

Under the chin, the bail

(I think they called the thing a swale).

Thus accorted they took the field

Sallying forth to overwhelm

the dragons and Pagans that plagued the Realm.

So our modern knight prepared to take his flight

Put on his wings and strapped them tight.

Buckled them fast to shoulder and hip.

Ten feet they measured from tip to tip.

And a helmet had he. But that, he wore

not on his head, like those of yore.

But more like the helm of a ship.

“Burk, stop laughin’. Solomon, keep still.

He’s riggin’ a spring board up in the sill.

I see his head. He sticks it out, an pokes it about,

lookin’ to see if the coast is clear, an’ anybody near.

Guess he don’t know who’s hid in here!”

Stepping carefully he travels the length

of the spring board, and teeters a little,

to try its strength.

Now he raises his wings, like a monstrous bat,

Peeps over his shoulder, this way and that,

looking to see if there’s anybody passing by.

But there’s none but a calf and a goslin’ nigh.

They turn up at him a wondering eye. to see,

The dragon! He’s going to fly!

What a jump! Flop, flop, and plump!!

To the ground, fluttering and floundering, all in a lump.

As a demon is hurled by an angels spear

head over heels to his proper sphere.

Heels over head, and head over heels,

dizzily down the abyss he wheels.

So fell Darius, upon his crown.

In the midst of the barnyard he came down.

Broken braces and broken wings,

shooting stars and various things.

Barnyard litter of straw and chaff,

And much that wasn’t so sweet by half.

Away with a bellow flew the calf.

And what was that? Did the gosling laugh?

Tis a merry roar from the old barn door,

As he hears the voice of Jathan crying,

“Say, Darius, how do you like flying?”

Slowly, ruefully, where he lay,

Darius just turned a look that way.

As he wiped his sorrowful nose with his cuff.

“Well, I like flyin’ well enough,” He said.

“But there ain’t such an awful sight

of fun in it when ye come to light.”

Shall we notice the MORAL here?

This is the moral: Stick to your sphere.

But, if you insist, as you have a right,

on spreading your wings for a loftier flight,

the moral is, take care how you light!