In 1927, a group of forward-thinking northeastern North Carolina business and civic leaders began an effort to preserve the original site of the Wright brothers' flights of December 17, 1903. The group formally organized on August 16, 1927, as the Kill Devil Hills Memorial Association and set about the task of acquiring the site where Orville and Wilbur Wright made their four historic flights in 1903. The location, which was then Kitty Hawk but has since become the Town of Kill Devil Hills, was chosen by the Wrights because of the windy conditions, open field for flight, soft sand for landing and relative isolation.
On December 17, 1928, the 25th Anniversary of the world’s first powered flight, the Kill Devil Hills Memorial Association planned, organized and presented a special ceremony commemorating those historic flights at the birthplace of aviation. The ceremony included the dedication of the boulder marking the site of the first flight and the laying of the cornerstone atop Kill Devil Hill for the Wright Memorial. Construction of the memorial shaft atop Kill Devil Hill commenced in the spring of 1931 and was finished and dedicated November 19, 1932. Orville Wright was guest of honor at the dedication. The inscription around the base of the monument is a reminder to us of the incredible accomplishments of the brothers: "In commemoration of the conquest of the air by the brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright. Conceived by genius and achieved by dauntless resolution and unconquerable faith."
Initially administered by the United States War Department, the park was transferred to the National Park Service, U. S. Department of the Interior, in 1933. In addition to the Memorial atop Kill Devil Hill, the site contains reproductions of the brothers camp building and hangar, markers of the four flights, a Visitors Center with reproductions of the 1902 glider and 1903 Flyer and exhibits that tell the exciting story of the development of the airplane and the first flight, and an airstrip for pilots to flight to the birthplace of aviation.
That original flight was witnessed by only a handful of local Outer Bankers, most of them lifesavers from the nearby Kill Devil Hills Life Saving Station, who had helped the brothers position the Flyer for the attempted flight. Anticipating success, Orville Wright positions his camera to photograph the Flyer as it crossed the end of the launching rail. He instructed Lifesaver John T. Daniels in how and when to activate the camera shutter. The flight was successful and the most historic moment in aviation history was recorded on Orville Wright’s glass plate negative, which today is preserved in the Wright collection at the Library of Congress.
The Kill Devil Hills Memorial Association was formally incorporated in 1943. Its name was changed to Kill Devil Hills Memorial Society in 1951 and in 1966 changes again to the First Flight Society. The Society works today in close support of the National Park Service at the Wright Brothers National Memorial.
In addition to memorializing the Wrights, the First Flight Society created the Paul E. Garber First Flight Shrine (named after the first curator of the Smithsonian's Air & Space Museum) to annually honors other great accomplishments in the history of aviation. The first honorees in the Shrine were, of course, Orville and Wilbur Wright, inducted on December 17, 1966, at the annual ceremony. The brothers were re-inducted in the Shrine in 2003 on the 100th anniversary of their historic flight. The Shrine portrait gallery resides in the Wright Brothers National Memorial Visitor Center. (You will find the complete list of honorees and their achievements elsewhere in this website.)
The annual December 17th ceremony at the monument is always inspiring. Local and national dignitaries, military officials, school children and others who are passionate about flight are in attendance. A spectacular aircraft fly-over is always held at precisely 10:35 am, the moment of the historic flight, with scores of military and civilian aircraft making low passes over the monument.
Today, just as the Kill Devil Hills Memorial Association was in 1927, the First Flight Society is headed by dedicated people who volunteer their time and expertise to meet the Society's goals. The members of the Board of Directors of the Society come from many walks of life but all have a devout interest in aviation. They meet regularly to raise funds for the Society's work, to plan the Society's annual events, to foster many aviation-related efforts, and to inspire children to learn about and respect the accomplishments exemplified by the Wrights.