Ornithopters were designed to fly by flapping their wings like birds, an idea as old as time. James W. Clark of Bridgewater, Pennsylvania - clockmaker, bicycle repairman, and inventor - reportedly tested this machine between 1900 and 1910.

While flapping flight is a story as old as ancient myth, as seen in the Greek tale of Icarus and Dædalus, the first documented conception of mechanical flapping flight rests with Leonardo Da Vinci. Da Vinci’s 1490 drawings proposed utilizing human power to drive the wings of his ornithopter. It was not until 1874, however, that Alphonse Penaud, pioneer of rubber-powered models, made a successful mechanical ornithopter.

The ornithopter seen here was built by James Clark of Bridgewater, Pennsylvania and reportedly tested around 1900. It failed to fly and was rebuilt two more times. While little else is known of Mr. Clark, he was known to have been an accomplished clockmaker, inventor and bicycle repairman who worked on his invention in secret. Although he was not as successful as the Wright Brothers, James Clark’s contribution to powered flight tells a story that is universal: that of the backyard tinkerer attempting to overcome gravity and loose the bonds of earth. If not for such experimentation - however impractical viewed in retrospect - powered flight would never have been possible. Had Clark flown in 1900, this would be the oldest gasoline engine-powered flying machine in existence.

Specifications: 5 horsepower, vertical two-cylinder, water-cooled Waterman Motor Company gas engine.

Accession no. 1993L05

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