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Samuel P. Langley

AKA Samuel Pierpont Langley

Born: 22-Aug-1834
Birthplace: Roxbury, MA
Died: 2-Feb-1906
Location of death: Aiken, SC
Cause of death: Stroke
Remains: Buried, Forest Hill Cemetery, Boston, MA

Gender: Male
Religion: Unitarian
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Astronomer, Aviator

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Heavier-than-air flying machine

Astronomer and theoretical aerodynamics expert Samuel P. Langley was one of his era's most famous and respected scientists. He worked at the Harvard and Allegheny Observatories, studied sunspots, and invented the bolometer (a radiant-heat detector that senses extremely minute temperature changes). On 6 May 1896, his steam-powered flying machine flew half a mile -- the first successful unmanned flight of a heavier-than-air flying machines. A subsequent flight by a machine of similar design on 11 November 1896 flew nearly a mile.

With funding from the US Department of War, Langley then spent several years designing and building a manned flying machine. He made two highly-publicized attempts at manned flight, but both times Langley's machine fell apart in mid-air after being catapulted from a barge on the Potomac River, leaving its occupant (Langley's assistant, Charles Manly) to swim ashore. Only nine days after his second unsuccessful attempt at flight, Orville and Wilbur Wright successfully flew their famous homemade flying machine.

Langley was also a founder of the National Zoo and Washington Academy of Sciences. He is the namesake of Langley Air Force Base, NASA's Langley Research Center, and the langley -- a unit of radiant energy. He was a direct descendant of Cotton and Increase Mather.

Father: Samuel Langley (shopkeepper, b. 1807)
Mother: Mary Sumner Williams (b. 1808)
Brother: John W. Langley (chemist)

    High School: Boston Latin School, Boston, MA (1851)
    Scholar: Harvard College Observatory, Harvard University (1865-67)
    Administrator: Director of Allegheny Observatory, University of Pittsburgh (1867-87)
    Professor: Physics and Astronomy, University of Pittsburgh (1867-87)

    Smithsonian Institution Secretary (1887-1906)
    Rumford Medal 1886
    Henry Draper Medal 1886
    American Association for the Advancement of Science President (1888)
    American Philosophical Society
    National Academy of Sciences
    Royal Society
    Royal Society of Edinburgh
    Units of Measure radiant energy
    English Ancestry
    Welsh Ancestry

Author of books:
The New Astronomy (1888)
Experiments in Aerodynamics (1891)

Appears on postage stamps:
USA, Scott #C118 (45, depicting Langley, issued 14-May-1988)


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