John Thomas Daniels, Jr. (July 31, 1873 – January 31, 1948)[1] was the amateur photographer who took the photograph of the Wright Brothers' first flight on December 17, 1903.[2] He was also a member of the Kill Devil Hills Life-Saving Station, and his cousin was North Carolina Senator Melvin Daniels.[3]

Daniels later said that he was so excited by seeing the Flyer rising that he nearly forgot Orville Wright's instructions to squeeze the bulb triggering the shutter. Of the photos taken during their 1903 stay in Kitty Hawk, this is one of the clearest, including a photo of the more dramatic third flight that was found to be blurry when processed.[4]

Daniels had never seen a camera prior to using the Gundlach Korona view camera with a 5-by-7-inch glass-plate negative to take the famous photo. The plate was not developed until the Wright brothers returned to Ohio. The camera was owned by the Wright brothers, who were careful to record the history making moment, and also to preserve a record for any future patent claims.

The Wright brothers made four flights that day; three were photographed: the first, third and fourth. After the Flyer was hauled back from the fourth flight, a powerful gust of wind caught it. Daniels grabbed a strut in an attempt to hold down the aircraft, but he was caught between the wings as the Flyer flipped end over end. Daniels was not seriously hurt, but the Flyer was destroyed with even the engine block split in half. Daniels would tell the story of the day he "survived the first airplane crash" for the remainder of his life.[5] Daniels died January 31, 1948, one day after Orville Wright's passing.

Anniversary events

In 2003, Daniels' granddaughter participated in the 100th anniversary First Flight Ceremonies at Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.[6]

On December 17, 2012, the great-grandniece of the Wright Brothers, Kate Jameson (through their niece Leontine Wright, daughter of their brother Lorin, later Jameson) reunited with the great-grandson of photographer John T. Daniels, also named John Daniels.[7]


  1. ^ John T. Daniels 1873-1948 courtesy of Findagrave.com
  2. ^ Crouch, Tom D. (February 2002). A dream of wings: Americans and the airplane. W.W. Norton & Co. pp. 300–305. ISBN 0-393-32227-0. 
  3. ^ Tise, Larry E. Hidden images: discovering details in the Wright brothers' Kitty Hawk Photographs. p. 10. ISBN 1-59629-054-4. 
  4. ^ "Capturing History". Vintage Aircraft. EAA. Retrieved 29 November 2009. 
  5. ^ Crouch, Tom D. (April 2003). The Bishop's Boys. W. W. Norton & Company. pp. 264–267. ISBN 978-0-393-30695-8. 
  6. ^ "Wright Flyer made its historic first flight" aerospaceforum.org
  7. ^ "Reunion for Wright brother's descendant." reunitednow.com/WrightBrothersReunion.html

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