John Thomas Daniels, Jr. (July 31, 1873 – January 31, 1948) was a member of the U.S. Life-Saving Station in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, who took the photograph of the first powered flight on December 17, 1903. The flight was by the Wright brothers flying their Wright Flyer. Daniels, who had never seen a camera before, later said that he was so excited by seeing the Flyer rising that he nearly forgot Orville Wright’s instructions to squeeze the bulb triggering the shutter. The camera that he operated was a Gundlach Korona V view camera, which used 5-by-7-inch glass-plate negatives. The camera was owned by the Wright brothers, who were careful to record the history-making moment, and also to preserve a record for any future patent claims. The plate was not developed until the Wright Brothers returned to Ohio.
The Wrights made four flights that day; three were photographed: the first, third and fourth. After the Flyer was hauled back from the fourth flight, a powerful gust of wind caught it. Daniels grabbed a strut in an attempt to hold down the aircraft, but he was caught between the wings as the Flyer flipped end over end. Daniels was not seriously hurt, but the Flyer was destroyed with even the engine block split in half. Daniels would tell the story of the day he “survived the first airplane crash” for the remainder of his life. Daniels died January 31, 1948, one day after Orville Wright’s passing.