Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Octave Chanute (18 February 1832 - November 23 1910) was an American railroad engineer and aviation pioneer. He provided the Wright brothers with help and advice, and helped to publicise their flying experiments.
1832 - born Octave Alexandre Chanut, son of Joseph and Eliza (De Bonnaire) Chanut, in Paris, France.
1838 - father Joseph Chanut accepts a position as Vice-president and History Professor at Jefferson College, north of New Orleans.
1846 - Chanut family move to New York. The month long steamship voyage leaves a lasting impression on Octave, giving him a fascination with modern technology.
1848 - takes a job as chainman with the Hudson River Railroad.
1849 - starts training as a railroad civil engineer.
1854 - becomes an American citizen. He adds the letter "e" to his family name and drops his middle name.
1857 - marries Annie Riddel James.
1863 - appointed Chief Engineer of the Chicago and Alton Railroad.
1889 - retires from railroad engineering.
1894 - publishes Progress in Flying Machines.
1910 - dies in Chicago.
Octave Chanute was a brilliant and innovative railroad engineer. During his career he designed and constructed two major stock yards, in Chicago (1865) and Kansas City (1871). He designed and built railroad bridges to cross the Mississippi River at Kansas City (began 1867, opened 1869), the Illinois River at Peoria, and the Genesee River Gorge near Portageville, NY
Chanute invented a system for pressure treating rail ties and telephone poles with creosote to preserve them. He also introduced the railroad date nail into the United States - a simple and efficient way of recording the age of railroad ties and other wooden structures by date stamping the heads of nails.
Chanute first became interested in aviation during a visit to Europe in 1875. When he retired from his engineering business in 1889, he decided to devote his time to furthering the new science of aviation.
Following his systematic engineering background, Chanute first collected all the data that he could find from flight experimenters around the world. He published this as a series of articles first published in the The Railroad and Engineering Journal from 1891 to 1893, and collected together in Progress in Flying Machine in 1894. This was the first organised, written collection of aviation research.
Chanute was too old to attempt to fly himself. However, he worked in partnership with younger experimenters, including Augustus Herring and William Avery. In 1896 and 1897 Chanute, Herring and Avery tested gliders based on designs by German aviator Otto Lilienthal, as well as gliders of their own design, on the shores of Lake Michigan not far from Chicago.
These experiments convinced Chanute that the best way to achieve extra lift without a prohibitive increase in weight was to stack several wings one above the other. Chanute invented the "strut-wire" braced structure that would be used in all biplanes of the future.
Chanute corresponded with many early aviators, including Louis Mouillard , Gabriel Voisin, and Louis Blériot. In 1897 Chanute started a correspondence with British aviator Percy Pilcher. Following Chanute's ideas, Pilcher designed a triplane, but he was killed in a glider crash before he could build it.
Chanute was in contact with the Wright brothers from 1900, when Wilbur Wright wrote to him after reading Progress in Flying Machines. Chanute helped to publicise the Wright brothers' work, and provided practical help and advice, making several visits to their camp near Kitty Hawk.
Chanute freely shared his knowledge about aviation with anyone who was interested and expected others to do the same. This led to some friction with the Wright brothers, who wanted to protect their invention through patents. However, they were reconciled before Chanute's death in 1910, and Wilbur Wright delivered the eulogy at Chanute's funeral.
- "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." Octave Chanute Progress in Flying Machines
- Chanute, Octave (1894, reprinted 1998) Progress in Flying Machines Dover ISBN 0486299813
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