Washington in 1909 was a strangely different city. The automobile was still a novelty. And only a handful of citizens believed that the flying machine was here to stay. On the record, the aviation skeptics built a strong case. Orville Wright of the Wright Brothers, inventors and pioneers of powered flight, had been released from Ft. Myer Hospital a few weeks before, suffering from injuries in a plane crash in mid-September. His passenger, Army Lieutenant Thomas E. Selfridge, was killed in the crash. An army contract accepting the plane had remained unsigned.
Public opinion as 1909 began was that the brothers were cranks, and their claims about powered flight only a dream. Even their achievements at Kitty Hawk on December 17, 1903, were dismissed by the general public as the hallucinations of a couple of crackpots. That the airplane had been invented by native sons only to be rejected by their country, that all indications were the machine would be exploited by a foreign power — these were only two of the frustrations suffered by a handful of Wright supporters. They saw in the airplane a powerful military weapon to protect the nation., and shared with the Wrights a vision of unlimited peacetime potential.