Circa 1903

North Carolina's Outer Banks at the Dawn of Flight

By Larry E. Tise

240 pp., 7 x 10, 130 halftones, 1 map, notes, index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-5114-9
    Published: May 2019
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-5115-6
    Published: March 2019
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-4485-9
    Published: March 2019

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Standing along the coast of today's Outer Banks, it can be hard to envision the barrier island world at Kitty Hawk as it appeared to Wilbur and Orville Wright when they first arrived in 1900 to begin their famous experiments leading to the world's first powered flight three years later. Around 1903, the islands and inland seas of North Carolina's coast were distinctive maritime realms--seemingly at the ends of the earth. But as the Wrights soon recognized, the region was far more developed than they expected.

This rich photographic history illuminates this forgotten barrier island world as it existed when the Wright brothers arrived. Larry E. Tise shows that while the banks seemed remote, its maritime communities huddled near lighthouses and lifesaving stations and busy fisheries were linked to the mainland and offered precisely the resources needed by the Wrights as they invented flight. Tise presents dozens of newly discovered images never before published and others rarely seen or understood. His book offers fresh light on the life, culture, and environment of the Carolina coast at the opening of the twentieth century, an era marked by transportation revolutions and naked racial divisions. Tise subtly shows how unexplored photographs reveal these dramatic changes and in the process transforms how we’ve thought of the Outer Banks for more than a century.

About the Author

Larry E. Tise was the Wilbur and Orville Wright Distinguished Professor of History at East Carolina University from 2000 to 2015.
For more information about Larry E. Tise, visit the Author Page.


“A surprising and remarkable book . . . [It] gives the readers the opportunity to see what the Wright Brothers described in their diaries.”--Failure Magazine

“This blend of words and pictures recreating the look and feel of North Carolina’s storied Outer Banks as they were . . . when the Wright brothers came here for their “scientific vacations”. . . . cuts through the mythology of the area as quaint backwater. . . . Tise offers readers . . . a visual overview of the North Carolina coast that illuminates life and society in the area at the time when Wilbur and Orville Wright were giving birth to the future.”--North Carolina Historical Review

“A remarkable volume that focuses on the people and places of the barrier islands . . . at the time of Orville and Wilbur Wright’s quest to achieve motorized air-flight on those broad sweeping sands. . . . Circa 1903 . . . contains two important features: Tise’s concise, illuminating and brilliant text, and the amazing and often not previously known photographs of the area and its people, also circa 1903.”--Virginia Gazette

"With powerful, telling archival photographs and maps and great reportage, noted historian Larry Tise opens the window high and wide on coastal and sound-country Carolina at the turn of the twentieth century, upon the natural and human world the Wrights found there. Fascinating, illuminating, and vivid!"--Bland Simpson, author of The Coasts of Carolina: Seaside to Sound Country

"This book will be of interest to those who want to learn more about the Wrights--and especially the Outer Banks and its rich history. In words and images, Tise shows how the environment, the people, and the events at the time impacted the Wrights and their flights."--Alton Ballance, author of Ocracokers