Image: Samuel Langley’s Aerodrome A on the houseboat ready for launch in 1903. Source: Manly, Charles. “Langley Memoir on Mechanical Flight: Part II, 1897 to 1903.” Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge, vol. 27, no. 3, 1911.


Flying Machines: A History of Early Aviation

September 13, 2018 – February 2019

When Orville and Wilbur Wright flew their plane at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in December 1903, transportation moved at a slow pace. Railroad steam engines, automobiles, and steamboats averaged from 5 to 20 miles per hour. But within a generation of the Wright Brother’s invention, aviation had developed into transatlantic flights and forever changed the social, cultural, and economic fabric of the world.

Visitors to the exhibition, The Flying Machine: A History of Early Aviation, will explore the beginnings of heavier-than-flight from the mid-19th century to the development of the U.S. aviation industry in the 1920s. Components of the exhibition will be:

West Gallery – Early Aviation Pioneers

  • Balloons, Gliders, and Aerodromes: The work of early aeronauts and aviators, such as  the Montgolfier brothers, Jean-Pierre and Sophie Blanchard,Otto Lilienthal, Octave Chanute, and Samuel Langley, during the 18th and 19th centuries as they tested balloons, gliders, and powered aircraft.
  • First powered flight: The Wright Brothers journey from bicycle shop owners in Dayton, Ohio, to testing gliders and then taking flight on December 17, 1903, in the world’s first sustained, controlled, heavier-than-air plane that flew for 120 feet at 6.8 miles per hour.
  • Other claims to first flight: Alberto Santo-Dumont, a Brazilian inventor, and Gustave Whitehead, a German immigrant in Connecticut, among others, made claims to have built and flown the first airplane.
  • Priority dispute: The Smithsonian Institution claimed that Samuel Langley, not the Wright Brothers, had invented the first airplane. The dispute led Orville Wright to send the Wright Flyer to the London Science Museum, where it remained on display until the Smithsonian apologized in 1948.

Alcove – Birds, Balloons, and Bicycles: A History of Flying Machine Patents

From the mid-19th century into the early decades of the 20th century, inventors from across the country attempted to build flying machines. Though none of the inventions was successful, the designs were creative: contraptions ranged from flying bicycles and winged suits (that included feathers!) to early concepts of helicopters.

This section of the exhibition will display several patent drawings from and tell the stories of the more interesting and innovative early flying machines. These include patents by lesser-known amateurs such as Kansas Citian Judson Eubank to famous inventors Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, and Alexander Graham Bell.

East Gallery – A History of Kansas City Aviation

  • Aviation Industry: Early airplane manufacturers—American Eagle, Porterfield, Rearwin—made Kansas City an aviation hub in the 1920s and 30s. This infrastructure and expertise enabled North American Aviation to produce 6,600 B-25 Mitchell bombers during WWII—more than any other factory in the U.S.—and later made Kansas City a global operating base for TWA.
  • Commercial Aviation: Commercial airlines began operating out of Kansas City soon after World War I. This portion of the exhibition will explore the design, use, and history of the three airports that have served (or will serve) the area.


To the Moon

Opens March 28, 2019

July 20, 2019, marks the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s and Buzz Aldrin’s first steps on the moon. Five additional Apollo missions sent 10 more astronauts to the lunar surface where they gathered rock samples and conducted scientific experiments. The exhibition, To the Moon, will relive Project Apollo and the behind-the-scenes story of how science got to and from the moon.




Exhibition galleries and the William N. Deramus III Cosmology Theater are open Monday – Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and the Second Saturday of each month from 10:00 a.m. to  2:00 p.m. Admission and parking are free for Library visitors. Advance registration is not required.

Saturday openings for 2018:

April 14 July 14  October 13
February 10 May 12 August 11 November 10
March 10 June 9 September 8 December 8

Reference, research, and circulation services are not available on Second Saturdays.


  • The Library will be closed Thursday, November 22 and Friday, November 23 in observance of the Thanksgiving holiday.