Around the turn of the century many scientists, blacksmiths, astronomers, dare devils, and bicycle makers were trying to achieve manned controlled flight in an airplane. A favorite to achieve flight was Samuel Langley. He was a well known astronomer, scientist, and architect of the international time zone system. He became Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution in 1887, and used the Smithsonian's resources to pursue serious research into manned flight.
Langely built several steam and gasoline powered airplanes, which he called Aerodromes, which sustained flight for 1000-5000 yards. The U.S. Army funded his research with a $50,000 grant, and his quest for manned flight really took off. Brought in on the Langley project, Hungarian engineer Stephen M. Balzer designed a five-cylinder, air-cooled rotary engine which produced a paltry 8 hp. Charles Manly redesigned it and got 52 hp from it, running at 950 rpm, and with an excellent power to weight ratio. The engine drove two pusher props.
The airplane had a tandem wing design and a cruciform tail. The control surfaces were minimal and inadequate, which Langley and Manly were aware of. They planned to improve the control surfaces after achieving straight line manned flight. The airplane weighed 750 lbs.
On October 7, 1903, the first flight was attempted. It was launched off a large house boat, almost an aircraft carrier. As it left the deck of the launch site, it angled down at a 45 degree angle, and crashed into the water. Much to Langley's consternation, it was reported that the airplane had left the launch site like a "like a handful of mortar." Langley maintainted that the problem was with launching, and it was theorized that the airplane snagged on part of the launch structure.
A second launch was attempted, with similar if not worse results. Manly was almost drowned in the crash. Amid nationwide ridicule, the Army withdrew the grant, and Langley's attempts at manned flight ended. Although no one would know about it for several years, a few days after Langley's crash, the Wright brothers achieved their first manned flight, on December 17, 1903.