Circa 1903

North Carolina’s Outer Banks at the Dawn of Flight, Larry E. Tise, UNC Press.

Circa 1903 Book Cover

If you’ve had a chance to read The Papers of Wilbur and Orville Wright, you know that the Wright Brothers had good reasons for choosing the North Carolina coast as the site of their experiments. Remote yet accessible, the area now known as the Outer Banks of North Carolina was ideal for flying gliders, as it featured sustained twenty mph winds and soft sands, the latter of which promised to minimize the structural damage and injuries suffered in “many anticipated crashes.”

If you’ve read their Papers, you also know that the Wright Brothers wrote extensively about the coastal world they experienced. What you may not know is that Wilbur and Orville, along with their older brother Lorin (1863-1939), took countless photographs during their trips to what were then known as the “sand banks” or “barrier islands.”

It’s a selection of these photographs—along with photos taken by other visitors—that make “Circa 1903” such a surprising and remarkable book, a “historical photographic record” that gives readers the opportunity to see what the Wright Brothers described in their diaries. Better yet, author Larry E. Tise—the Wilbur and Orville Wright Distinguished Professor of History at East Carolina University from 2000-15—puts the photos in context, providing additional insight into the people the Wright Brothers encountered and the places they visited during their half-dozen trips to the region.

So, for example, we see pictures of the family that hosted the Wrights during their first trip to Kitty Hawk; pictures of the Wright brothers’ kitchen, camp site and camp buildings at Kill Devil Hills; boats that the Wrights hired to transport them around the region; and photographs of lighthouses and fisheries, as well as images from Elizabeth City, then the commercial hub of the upper Carolina coast.

In a nutshell, “Circa 1903” provides fascinating new insights into a mostly forgotten world, one that played a mission-critical role in the invention of flight.

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