The Monument

In Commemoration Of The Conquest Of The Air By The Brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright Conceived By Genius And Achieved Dauntless Resolution And Unconquerable Faith.  The inscription around the base of the pylon atop Big Kill Devil Hill.

There are three monuments to the Wright Brothers on the Outer Banks.

The first monument commemorating the first flight and the Wrights is now located in the town hall of Kitty Hawk, NC.  The five-foot marble obelisk was funded by the citizens who raised $210 in a local campaign initiated and led by Captain William Tate.  The “locals” insisted the true cradle of aviation mark the spot where the first Wright machine, the 1901 glider, had been assembled and flown in experiments; this was along the sound-and on the site of the old Methodist parsonage.  After significant damage, the obelisk was relocated to the town hall.  It was replaced by an identical obelisk by another local funding campaign.  The “2nd” obelisk is located in a grassy yard beside a residence on Moor Shore Drive, Kitty Hawk.

NC Congressman Lindsay Warren proposed a memorial in 1926.  Agreed upon by NC legislators and the Kill Devil Hills Memorial Association, it was not agreeable to Ohio legislators who insisted the a memorial be at Wright Field overlooking Huffman Prairie in OH.  An ally of Warren, U.S. Sen. Hiram Bingham of CT introduced a $50,000 appropriations  bill that sailed through both houses and was signed into law by President Coolidge March 2, 1927.

Located on Big Kill Devil Hill, THE MONUMENT, to which it is referred by the public (referred to as the pylon by the National Park Service), was designed by the New York architectural firm of Rodgers and Poor after a nation-wide contest.

The cornerstone was laid December 17, 1928, the 25th anniversary of the First Flight.  The silver anniversary was attended by Orville Wright and his special guest, Amelia Earhart.

Building the monument was tasked to the Army Quratermaster Corps.  The first task was to address a moving sand dune.  Big Kill Devil Hill was stabilized with inches of straw, leaf, wood mold, and imported grasses of tannic, hairy vetch, and marram after being fenced to keep wild hogs and cattle out.  This process began in 1929 at a cost of $27,500.  By summer of 1930 the sand dune was a stable hill and construction began February 1931.  Big Kill Devil Hill, 90 foot tall is 450 ft southwest of its location when the Wrights flew gliders from its slopes.

The monument was completed and dedicated  in 1932.  Orville Wright attended the dedication accompanied by many family members.  It was the largest monument dedicated to a living individual.

Site-Big Kill Devil Hill
61 feet high      
Base-36 ft by 43 ft
*Approximately two miles of curving trails from the base of the hill to the base of the monument; originally constructed in 1936.
*The sides of the monument are ornamented by a relief of Art Deco-style wings.
*The foundation is shaped like a five point star after the foundation of the Statue of Liberty.

Building Materials         Monument      Platform       Foundation
Granite                               640 tons          557 tons       
Gravel                                 339 tons          685 tons         975 tons
Sand                                    163 tons           299 tons         400 tons
Cement                               74 tons            136 tons           181 tons

Cost: $285,000

*The granite was supplied by Sargent Granite Company in Mt. Airy, NC.

Wilbur’s name is inscribed above Orville’s name on the southern face of the monument.  Wilbur was the older brother by four years.

The busts of Wilbur and Orville at the base were created by the sculptor Oskar Hansen.  These are reproductions.  The originals were stolen on two separate occasions and later recovered.  Another set of reproductions are on exhibit in the Museum of the Albemarle in Elizabeth City. The originals are stored in NPS archives.

The powerhouse at the southern base of the hill was built in 1932to house a generator that provided electricity to the monument; 12 ft square; 13 ft high.eee

The beacon was first lighted in 1937.  It was relighted in 1998 as part of the re-dedication following an extensive restoration by The Foundation.

The Doors at the base of the monument are stainless steel over nickel.  The cost in 1928, $3,000.  The relief panels represent the conquest of the air:

*Bird wings represent the influence of the Wrights’ work and study of the flight of birds.
*Besnier, a French locksmith, who in 1678 thought he could fly if he could propel himself into the air by attaching paddles to both arms and legs.  He reportedly tried the system launching himself from chairs, tables, and the side of a building before he retired.
*Otto Lilienthal, German glider pioneer, inspired the Wrights.  He died while conducting glider experiments.
*As a French philosopher theorized, the dew rose in the morning, therefore, if you could harness that power you could fly-that if dew, placed into an expandable bag attached to a box and a sail would lift off if placed in the sun.  It was only a theory; it did not work.
*Propellers represent the Wrights’ invention of the modern propeller design.
*Icarus was a figure in Greek mythology who tried to fly from Crete by attaching feathers to his arms with wax.  He flew too closed to the sun and fell to Earth when the wax melted.
*Bird light to plane flight; Phoenix rising.
*The Wrights, and others, used kites in early experiments.