1891

Otto Lilienthal – the glider king

Otto-Lilienthal-Museum

Learn more about the first human flight and the man behind it.

Vacuum airship project of an Italian Jesuit priest Francesco Lana de Terzi, Francesco Lana de Terzi, Francesco Lana de Terzi, 1670, From the collection of: Otto-Lilienthal-Museum
A dream of flight
To fly was always more than just a technical challenge. The idea of conquering the skies is a dream that has fascinated would-be pilots since around 2300 BC. Now, facts, data and images let us retell the short story of human flight - the culmination of a long prehistory of fantastic projects, astonishing ideas and adventurous attempts.
Airship project, Bartolomeu Lourenço de Gusmão, Bartolomeu Lourenço de Gusmão, 1709, From the collection of: Otto-Lilienthal-Museum

In 1709, the Portuguese priest and naturalist Bartolomeu Lourenço de Gusmão presented a petition to King of Portugal, seeking royal support for his invention of an airship.

Airmail ship "Minerva", Robertson, Robertson, model: Serowski, Harald/Otto-Lilienthal-Museum, 1804, From the collection of: Otto-Lilienthal-Museum

A popular early satire on the onset of "balloon mania" which began with the first balloon trips in 1783.

Fantastic Airship "Minerva"
steam driven airship, Baptiste Henri Jacques Giffard, Baptiste Henri Jacques Giffard, 1852-09-24, From the collection of: Otto-Lilienthal-Museum

The world's first passenger airship, powered with a steam engine of the French engineer Henry Giffard reached a speed of about 10 km/h (1:50 scale model).

airship with an electric engine, Albert und Gaston Tissandier, Tissandier, Gaston & Albert, model: Grils/Otto-Lilienthal-Museum, 1883-10-08, From the collection of: Otto-Lilienthal-Museum

This model shows the first airship with an electric engine (1:50 scale model).

Gasoline driven airship, Friedrich Hermann Wölfert, Wölfert, Friedrich Herrmann, 1896, From the collection of: Otto-Lilienthal-Museum

First successful airship driven by a gasoline engine. (Model 1:50)

1895, From the collection of: LIFE Photo Collection
When humans learned to fly
”That day in 1891 when Lilienthal paced the first 15 metres of air, I take as the moment when mankind learned to fly.” A historic quote by French flight pioneer Ferdinand Ferber (1862-1909).
Ottomar Anschütz famos photographs of storks, Anschütz, Ottomar, 1884, From the collection of: Otto-Lilienthal-Museum

Since 1882, Ottoman Anschütz was busy outsmarting the "moment". His "focal plane shutter" was, in addition to sensitive photographic material, the key to producing so-called "momentary photographs". They were the prerequisite for imaging moving objects. A series of flying storks was one of the first instant photographs in 1884. Anschütz became the most important photographer of the flying Otto Lilienthal.

Composed from photographs, this stop-motion animation shows the first human flight by Otto Lilienthal.

Otto Lilienthal: "Derwitz glider", Otto Lilienthal, Lilienthal, Otto, 1891, From the collection of: Otto-Lilienthal-Museum

Das erste erfolgreiche "Flugzeug" der Geschichte (Replik)

The beginning of human flight
Otto Lilienthal in flight with his small biplane, Richard Neuhauss, Neuhauss, Richard, 1895-10-07, From the collection of: Otto-Lilienthal-Museum

Small biplane

"Normal soraing apparatus" - first aeroplane built in series, Otto Lilienthal, Lilienthal, Otto, 1894/1896, From the collection of: Otto-Lilienthal-Museum

This is the first flying vehicle in a serial production. We know that at least nine people bought the original glider. Four of these are preserved in museums in London, Moscow, Munich and Washington.

cockpit of Otto Lilienthal's "Normal Soaring Apparatus", Otto Lilienthal, Lilienthal, Otto, 1894/1896, From the collection of: Otto-Lilienthal-Museum

The Cockpit

Otto Lilienthal's "large biplane", Otto Lilienthal, Lilienthal, Otto, 1895, From the collection of: Otto-Lilienthal-Museum
The problem of steering
Lilienthal's aeroplane "small biplane", Otto Lilienthal, Lilienthal, Otto, 1895, From the collection of: Otto-Lilienthal-Museum

Lilienthal described his vision for steering control, stating: "The biplane design has the same lifting capacity of a single wing with twice the span, but the shorter span is more responsive to changes in the center of gravity." The results were convincing. The original lower wing is preserved in Vienna.

Otto Lilienthal's small wing flapping apparatus, Otto Lilienthal, Lilienthal, Otto, replica: Nitsch, Stephan; Legat, Ingolf, 1893/1896, From the collection of: Otto-Lilienthal-Museum

Lilienthal also attempted to add a wing-flapping mechanism to his gliders.

The book "birdflight as the basis of aviation" - the foundation of, Otto Lilienthal, 1889, From the collection of: Otto-Lilienthal-Museum
Inspired by bird flight
Lilienthal’s successful gliding flights from 1891 earned him international recognition. His tests and experimentation from 1873 onwards formed the fundamental groundwork for today’s aviation. In his book ”Bird Flight As The Basis Of Aviation” published in 1889, he presented the physical laws of the wing that are still valid today.
Watercolor "Circling Storks", Otto Lilienthal, Lilienthal, Otto, 1889, From the collection of: Otto-Lilienthal-Museum

The bird flight was the main inspiration for Lilienthal's invention.

Plate VIII from Lilienthal's book "Birdflight as a Basis of Aviation", Lilienthal, Otto, Lilienthal, Otto, 1889, From the collection of: Otto-Lilienthal-Museum

Decoded - the mystery of the wing

wing flapping experiment, Otto Lilienthal, Lilienthal, Otto, 1889, From the collection of: Otto-Lilienthal-Museum

Lilienthal’s first well-documented experiment: Are flapping wings the key to human flight?

Whirling arm device, Otto Lilienthal, Lilienthal, Otto, 1989, From the collection of: Otto-Lilienthal-Museum
Whirling arm device
Polar diagram - quintessence of Lilienthal's measurements, Otto Lilienthal, Lilienthal, Otto, 1889, From the collection of: Otto-Lilienthal-Museum

Lilienthal published a paper about the properties of artificial wings featuring work that is still valid today: the so called "polar diagram".

Letterhead of the engineering works "Otto Lilienthal", Ernst Wolff, after 1910, From the collection of: Otto-Lilienthal-Museum
Lilienthal's legacy
Lilienthal went down in history as the ”first flying man”. But this reveals only a part of his life: he was also a successful manufacturer of small steam engines and steam boilers. As a creative engineer he held numerous mechanical engineering patents and he was a progressive entrepreneur with a focus on how engineering could help improve society. What’s more, almost all construction toys to this day are based on inventions of the Lilienthal brothers.
stone building blocks - drawings for a construction toy, Lilienthal, Gustav, Lilienthal, Gustav, 1879, From the collection of: Otto-Lilienthal-Museum

Another famous invention

The story of toy blocks
Submittal for a stone building set, Lilienthal, Gustav, 1885, From the collection of: Otto-Lilienthal-Museum
first sold stone building blocks, Lilienthal, Gustav; Georgens, Jan Daniel, 1879, From the collection of: Otto-Lilienthal-Museum
the only kept steam engine produces in the Lilienthal engeneering works, Lilienthal, Otto, Lilienthal, Otto, 1889, From the collection of: Otto-Lilienthal-Museum

For the last century or so, historians engaged in research with the life and accomplishments of Lilienthal had come to the conclusion that, apart from the few preserved gliders, probably no original product of the Lilienthal machine works has been preserved. That's why it was a big surprise when the museum got to know a few years ago that a Lilienthal steam engine existed in Australia.

The flight pioneer's steam engine
Otto Lilienthal as an actor in a Berlin theater, . B. Kliemeck,, 1893, From the collection of: Otto-Lilienthal-Museum

Otto Lilienthal as an actor in the Berlin "Ostendtheater" which he transformed into a "Volksbühne" (community theatre) as a co-owner. He also became the author of a play with strong autobiographical features for the theater.

Lilienthal medal, 1914 - 1935, From the collection of: Otto-Lilienthal-Museum

Award of the "Wissenschaftliche Gesellschaft für Luftfahrt" (Scientific Association of Aviation)
front: "OTTO LILIENTHAL MDCCCXLVIII-XCVI NON OMNIS MORIAR" (1848-96, I will not die), verso:: "für hervorragende Verdienste" (distinguished merits)

Before we finish, we invite you to take a look around the displays of the Otto-Lilienthal-Museum for yourself.

Otto-Lilienthal-Museum
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Otto-Lilienthal-Museum
Ellbogenstraße 1
D-17389 Anklam

Website Otto-Lilienthal-Museum
info@lilienthal-museum.de

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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