The Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences holds the largest collection of material internationally of the aviation pioneer, Lawrence Hargrave. While no single individual can be attributed to the invention of the aeroplane, Hargrave belonged to an elite body of scientists and researchers (along with Octave Chanute, Otto Lilienthal and Percy Sinclair Pilcher) whose experiments and inventions paved the way for the first powered, controlled flight achieved by the Wright Brothers on December 17, 1903.
Hargrave's greatest contribution to aeronautics was the invention of the box or cellular kite. This kite evolved in four stages from a simple cylinder kite made of heavy paper to a double-celled one capable of lifting Hargrave sixteen feet off the ground. The fourth kite of the series, produced by the end of 1893, provided a stable supporting and structural surface that satisfied the correct area to weight ratio which became the foundation for early European built aircraft. For example, Hargrave's box kite appears to be the inspiration for Alberto Santos Dumont's aircraft named '14bis', which undertook the first powered, controlled flight in Europe in 1906. Similarly, Gabriel Voisin states in his autobiography that he and his brother Charles, who manufactured the first commercially available aircraft in Europe, owe their inspiration to their construction to a Hargrave box kite, while via correspondence with Octave Chanute, there is also evidence for Hargrave's box kite influencing the aircraft used by the Wright Brothers during their historic flight in 1903.
Hargrave's contribution to aeronautics can also be observed in other ways. For example, he conducted important research into animal movement and produced a number of flapping models which successfully demonstrated a means of propulsion. However, the flapping wing models were unable to ascend or lift from ground level with manpower alone. This prompted Hargrave to design and produce alternative power sources including a variety of engines, the most influential being his three cylinder radial rotary engine. This arguably formed the basis of the idea for the famous French Gnome engine, which became the primary source of aircraft power for the French Allies in World War I.
Beyond aviation, Hargrave is also significant for his exploration work in the Torres Strait and New Guinea. In 1876, for example, he joined Luigi d'Albertis' expedition to the Fly River and on completion, was regarded as an expert cartographer who held an unrivalled knowledge of the region. Hargrave also contributed to the study of astronomy with his development of adding machines to assist Sydney Observatory in their calculations. He similarly researched and wrote on Australian history and was an early proponent for the establishment of a bridge across Sydney Harbour.
Adams, M., "Wind Beneath His Wings - Lawrence Hargrave at Stanwell Park" (September 2004)
ADB Online, "Lawrence Hargrave", http://www.adb.online.anu.edu.au/biogs/A090194b.htm (Downloaded 18/7/2007)
Grainger, E., "Hargrave and Son - A Biography of John Fletcher Hargrave and his son Lawrence Hargrave" (Brisbane, 1978)
Hudson Shaw, W & Ruhen, O., "Lawrence Hargrave - Explorer, Inventor & Aviation Experimenter" (Sydney, 1977)
Roughley, T.C., "The Aeronautical Work of Lawrence Hargrave" (Technological Museum, Sydney Bulletin No.19, 1939)