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Plenty of experiments end in failure, so it’s not surprising very few people actually witnessed the Wright brothers’ Flyer inaugurate the aerial age at Kitty Hawk. In fact, the Wrights didn’t send an account of their flights to the Associated Press until three weeks after the December 17, 1903, breakthrough.

Fortunately for the air-minded public, Glenn Curtiss took a more progressive view of publicity, ensuring that members of the press as well as the scientific community were on hand for his 1908 flight in June Bug near his hometown of Hammondsport, N.Y. To make doubly sure he’d have a large audience, he even scheduled his demonstration for Independence Day.

Horses and buggies reportedly streamed in for the event. That’s how his flight of nearly a mile, which earned Curtiss the Scientific American trophy for the first public flight in America, garnered an audience of 1,000, many of whom celebrated his success well into the night. Curtiss also received the first pilot’s license granted in the United States after his flight.

June Bug was one of four flying machines designed and built by Curtiss and other members of Alexander Graham Bell’s Aerial Experiment Association. Two previous de – signs, Red Wing and White Wing, both crashed after brief flights. June Bug—which reputedly got its name based on the color of its brown shellacked cotton cloth wings—was powered by the same pusher-type engine Curtiss engine used in the other AEA planes, but it was the first aircraft in America to be equipped with steerable tricycle landing gear.

To mark the centennial of June Bug’s demonstration flight, this summer the Glenn H. Curtiss Museum plans a big celebration on Saturday, July 5, near the site of the original demonstration. There will be flyovers, antique cars and motorcycles, demonstrations of Curtiss engines and more, all aimed at reminding the public why Hammonds – port, home to the Curtiss Aeroplane & Motor Company, the Curtiss Flying School and the development of the hydroaeroplane and flying boat, is known as the “Cradle of Aviation.” For more information, visit


Originally published in the September 2008 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here