In the 1920s, an effort began to properly acknowledge Wilbur and Orville Wright's accomplishments in aviation. A group of North Carolinians organized the Kill Devil Hills Memorial Association to recognize and help protect the site of the Wright brothers' experiments on the Outer Banks. North Carolina Congressman Lindsay C. Warren joined local efforts to create a monument honoring the Wrights. However, Ohio wanted the memorial in Dayton. Before the Ohio delegation could mount an effective campaign, Senator Hiram Bingham of Connecticut, a friend of Warren and the President of the National Aeronautical Society, quickly introduced a $50,000 appropriation bill to build the memorial. On March 2, 1927, President Calvin Coolidge signed the bill establishing the Kill Devil Hill Monument National Memorial.
Beginning in the summer of 1928, a joint effort of the Coast Guard and local citizens partially stabilized the large hill at Kill Devil Hills through an encircling band of shrubs and stub grass in order to help prepare the hill for a planned larger monument. This became the first major alteration of the site; the War Department eventually stabilized, planted with shrubs and trees, and sodded the ground, preventing the continued southwest migration of Big Kill Devil Hill and altering forever the once barren scene of the first flight.
The beginning of the construction of the monument as set out in the 1927 Congressional Act began with the laying of the cornerstone at the top of Big Kill Devil Hill on December 17, 1928, just prior to the ceremonial unveiling of a small rock-faced granite marker placed at the 1903 first flight lift-off site. In the intervening 25 years, remnants of the brothers' camp buildings had all but disappeared, and the Big Kill Devil Hill sand dune had shifted several hundred feet due to high winds. Two decades of shifting sands also made it difficult to locate the exact spot where the 1903 Flyer took off. Capt. Bill Tate and three of the witnesses to the first flight verified the location of the now-famous event and, using Orville Wright's written accounts, located the approximate site of the liftoff. Orville Wright watched as representatives from the National Aeronautic Association erected the marker, which was carved to resemble a boulder.
Much of this controversy over the monument's proposed design took place in the early part of 1928. By June 1928, the Office of the Quartermaster General, charged with supervising actual construction, realized the impossibility of a quick decision and announced a design competition.
Interestingly, the Rodgers and Poor design was anything but traditional and, in fact, revealed strong ties to the then popular Art Deco movement. The monument was embellished with highly stylized sculpted wings on each side to symbolize the ideas of flight and motion. The design implied ancient Egyptian motifs, an important source for Art Deco designs, which also drew upon Native-American and Asian precedents. The Wright Brothers Monument was a design unequaled by other federal projects of the era, most of which focused on utilitarian functions and character.
Congress confirmed appropriations for the building of the Rodgers and Poor-designed monument in December 1930. The Wills and Mafera Corporation of New York won the bid for general contractor around the same time, quoting a low bid of $213,000 for the monument and a powerhouse at the foot of the main Kill Devil Hill.
The contractors scheduled construction beginning February 1931 following the completion of Captain Kindervater's work on stabilization and road construction. Materials arrived late, delaying the project start to October of that year.
The Sargent Granite Company of Mount Airy, North Carolina, received the contract award for the stone. The same company provided the material for the Arlington Memorial Bridge in Washington, D.C., and for the Gettysburg Memorial in Pennsylvania, two other important federal projects of this period, securing their reputation. The stone traveled to the site by railroad via Norfolk and Elizabeth City and then by barge and truck to the Kill Devil Hills reservation. The bridge at Kitty Hawk opened that spring, and allowed smaller pieces to be delivered directly by truck. Larger stones required on-site rails for moving.
Work on the star-shaped granite base began in December 1931. Granite blocks were lifted into place by a crane mounted on the hillside. In all, the project required nearly 1,200 tons of granite, more than 2,000 tons of gravel, more than 800 tons of sand, and nearly 400 tons cement.
The crews completed the monument construction in November 1932. By this time the site included the new monument on top of the big hill and its associated powerhouse, the original granite first flight lift-off marker north of the new monument, a road from state route 158 leading to the park boundary, a park road circling the east side of monument hill and turning due north to circle the granite marker, and a straight pedestrian trail leading from the road at the base of Kill Devil Hill to the monument.
Plans for the dedication of the monument began the summer before the scheduled completion date of October 1, 1932. Despite a pending presidential election, General Louis H. Bash, the Acting Quartermaster General, chose November 19, the Saturday after elections, as the dedication date.
In 1933 administration of the site passed from the War Department to the National Park Service. In 1953, the National Park Service (NPS) reconstructed the two Wright brothers' structures in recognition of the fiftieth anniversary of the first flight. The park based the approximate location for the reconstructed structures on the point of take-off. The NPS, as well as the U.S. Air Force and private donors, provided funding and design guidance, reconstructing the buildings using photographs taken by the Wrights in 1903. The site was also renamed Wright Brothers National Memorial in 1953.
In 1953, the National Park Service (NPS) reconstructed the two Wright brothers' structures in recognition of the fiftieth anniversary of the first flight. The park based the approximate location for the reconstructed structures on the point of take-off. The NPS, as well as the U.S. Air Force and private donors, provided funding and design guidance, reconstructing the buildings using photographs taken by the Wrights in 1903.
The park today includes the monument on Big Kill Devil Hill, the granite marker at the liftoff spot, four smaller granite markers designating the landing spot of each of the four flights, and reconstructed 1903 camp buildings. A visitor center and Centennial pavilion house reproductions of the 1902 glider and 1903 Flyer, as well as other exhibits. — Courtesy National Park Service.
• Wright Brothers National Memorial
• Aerial View - Wright Brothers National Memorial