Now the plane, centerpiece of the Franklin Institute's Hall of Aviation in Philadelphia for nearly 70 years, is being dismantled and shipped to Ohio for a $100,000 restoration.
Philanthropists John and Terry Desmond donated the money to restore the craft, one of the best-preserved planes built by the Wright brothers.
"It is obviously a very important airplane," said John Desmond, a collector of antique aircraft, who attended a luncheon in the Hall of Aviation on Tuesday. "The institute is very lucky to have it."
Grover Cleveland Bergdoll went to Dayton, Ohio, in 1912 and paid $5,000 - equal to about $100,000 today - for one of the planes the Wright brothers built after making their first flight just nine years earlier.
Bergdoll, an 18-year-old from a wealthy family, began flying the plane out of a field seven miles west of Philadelphia. He donated the plane in 1933 to the Franklin Institute, which first put it on display in 1935.
John Alviti, the museum's senior curator, said the plane was in such good shape, because Bergdoll stopped flying it in 1914 after about 300 hours of flight time and put it in storage.
"It is better than the 1903 flyer at the Smithsonian" in which the Wright brothers made their first flight, Alviti said. "It has more original fabric and it is in better shape."
The plane will be restored by The Aeroplane Works in New Carlisle, Ohio. It will be the centerpiece of a revamped Hall of Aviation that the Franklin Institute plans to open in 2003, in time for the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers' first flight over Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
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