Octave Alexander Chanute
Octave Chanute (pronounced "sha-noot") was born in Paris and came to the United States as a child. He became an outstanding civil engineer and respected scientist who lent his talents to furthering human transportation. He spent most of his adult life as an engineer in the railroad industry, but later gained international fame in the study of aeronautics. He published Progress in Flying Machines in New York in 1894, which summarized and thoroughly analyzed the technical accomplishments of the world's aviation pioneers up to that time. The book became a classic and a guidebook for the efforts of many would-be aviators around the world, including the Wright brothers.
Chanute designed and oversaw the construction of several important railroads in this country, as well as the first railroad bridge over the Missouri River and the Union stockyards in Kansas City and Chicago. He had a wide variety of interests and specialties, being an authority in iron bridges, truss construction techniques, and wood preservation.
The Wright brothers acknowledged Chanute's key role as a mentor, saying that his research and continual inspiration paved the way for their success. Chanute corresponded with them for many years and even visited their camp at Kitty Hawk during their flight experiments.
(To see photographs of the Wright brothers' encampment taken by Chanute himself in 1901 and 1902, visit the Library of Congress online exhibit The Recovered Legacy: Images of the Wright Brothers at Kill Devil Hills.)
Chanute was also instrumental in the revival of flight research in Europe in the early twentieth century. His lectures in Paris following the successful flight of the Wright Flyer in the United States served to rekindle the waning interest in flight among many European engineers.
Although he never flew, Octave Chanute spent a great deal of his life inspiring others to do so. It has been said that "he caused people to act and things to happen by what he did, what he wrote, what he said." Just months before his death he was still at it, publishing a final treatise, "Recent Progress in Aviation."
"Let us hope that the advent of a successful flying machine, now only dimly foreseen and nevertheless thought to be possible, will bring nothing but good into the world; that it shall abridge distance, make all parts of the globe accessible, bring men into closer relation with each other, advance civilization, and hasten the promised era in which there shall be nothing but peace and goodwill among all men."
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Progress in Flying Machines