Let's look at some known facts. Cody was highly intelligent and creative, a genius perhaps, capable of mastering the arts of showmanship, play writing and production, and of developing, building and flying novel and highly effective designs for man-lifting kites and even aeroplanes at a time when nobody else in the country was able to. Despite his inability to do maths, he was the only person capable of designing and building the gondola for the British Army's first airship and of installing and maintaining its engine. He tried hard to learn to read and write, coached by members of his adopted family, yet he was never able to do more than write like a child, full of absurd spelling mistakes. And he designed his aeroplanes by eye, unable to perform the simplest of structural calculations. Yet, they flew - better than anybody else's in the country for several few years, with Cody being not only the first Army aviator but winning the Michelin Cup for two successive years and also a later Army Aeroplane Competition.
Consider today what happens to a schoolchild who is demonstrably highly intelligent and creative, studies hard and does outstandingly well in some subjects but lags badly behind in reading, writing and mathematics. These are classic symptoms of dyslexia and it is not long before the condition is diagnosed and, hopefully, remedial treatment begins.
But dyslexia was not understood in Cody's day, such failures were put down to stupidity or poor upbringing. It is time we stopped assuming that ignorant old diagnosis to be correct and looked at Cody with a fresh eye. With the benefit of modern knowledge, I would suggest that we can confidently diagnose Samuel Franklin Cody as suffering from severe dyslexia.
Modern biographies of Cody may be found in:
The classic study of his aviation work appears in two volumes:
Updated 27 Oct 2014