In Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, on a clear December morning in 1903, the Wright Brothers flew. The world collectively yawned. The Wrights’ secrecy — they were engaged in negotiations with the American military and fiercely protective of their technology, which had not yet received its patents — and their complete lack of interest in planning a public test didn’t help. Just a week before, physicist and Smithsonian Institution director Samuel Langley‘s catapult-launched had, to widespread publicity, crashed on takeoff; the Wrights didn’t ask anyone to witness their flight in 1903, and even two years later never formally invited reporters to attend their test flights. Initially, many thought they were hoaxers; the airship mania of the late 1890s was then a recent phenomenon. By the time the Wrights were willing to go public, the world had largely caught up with them. The two, still tinkering with their manufacturing processes and working rejected Earnest Archdeacon’s direct invitation to participate in a 1907 air competition (with a fifty thousand franc prize). In 1908, they finally silenced critics with the longest sustained flight to date (and the greatest control over piloting; the Wrights were the first to understand roll, pitch, and yaw), then shrugged off the potential publicity of being the first to fly across the English Channel. The Wrights were not interested in showing off. Glenn Curtiss was an innovator — his planes’ ailerons may have been used because they avoided the Wrights’ patents, but they were an improvement over the Wrights’ system that are still used today — but, more importantly, he understood the advantages being in the public eye. The Wrights had their "Flyer"; Curtiss had his "June Bug". His planes cost a fifth what the Wrights’ did, and Curtiss used them to win speed trials throughout the country. By 1920, the Wrights were gone from the airplane business, although their named lived on in that of the Curtiss-Wright Corporation. Their claim to fame is not that they were the best, but that they were first. If it weren’t for them, one of the other students of Octave Chanute might be celebrated today, France’s Voisin brothers or the Franco-Brazillian Alberto Santos-Dumont (who killed himself when he saw that airplanes would be used as a weapon). But being first is no small thing, and the Wrights made important discoveries. More importantly, they flew. Even with all the advances since, that’s nothing to take for granted.