Taking Flight: The Wright Brothers

“The desire to fly is an idea handed down to us by our ancestors who…looked enviously on the birds soaring freely through space…on the infinite highway of the air.”

Wilbur Wright

After many failures that could not suppress their pioneering spirit, the determination of Wilbur and Orville Wright finally sprang to life on one fateful December morning. As their excitement mounted, their dreams literally took flight on December 17, 1903. The brothers tested their airplane, and their excitement could not be contained as their flying machine spread its wings and soared across the landscape.  

The two boys, Wilbur and Orville Wright, grew up in a large family. Their parents, Milton Wright and Susan Catherine Koerner, met at a United Brethren college in Hartsville, Indiana. Milton studied and trained to become a minister.  

Their father, Milton, was a bishop in the Church of the United Brethren in Christ. As a minister, their father frequently traveled, and the family often moved, and finally settled in Dayton, Ohio. One year in 1878, he brought his children toys, and one, in particular, grabbed the boys’ attention. Milton gave his sons a small model helicopter made from bamboo, cork, and paper. Intrigued, the two boys developed a life-long fascination with aeronautics and flying.

The parents of Wilbur and Orville greatly influenced their children. They sent their children to public schools and encouraged them to follow their intellectual interests. And from an early age, the boys knew they were on to something. One day at school, Orville was fidgeting with pieces of wood while sitting in his school desk. His teacher inquired about his project, and the boy told her that one day he and his brother would fly.

Wilbur Wright was born on April 16, 1867, in Indiana. Wilbur excelled in school and planned on attending Yale University. However, the young man never fulfilled that dream, for he was injured in an ice hockey game when another player’s stick hit him in the face. Suffering from a severe infection that caused him to have additional health problems, Wilbur dropped into a depression and withdrew to his family home. The quiet man spent hours reading and caring for his mother when she contracted tuberculosis, and he remained by her side until she died.

Born on August 19, 1871, in Dayton, Ohio, Orville was always the curious brother and relished coming up with new inventions. He exhibited an interest in science and technology at a young age. In fact, the young boy would often disassemble things just so he could discover how they functioned. Although, as a young boy, he could be naughty in the classroom, he became studious as he grew older. In high school, he decided to enroll in advanced college preparatory classes. Even though he took advanced courses, he did not meet his high school graduation requirements. He dropped out of school, and like his older brother Wilbur, he never completed his degree.

Throughout their lives, the two remained close and created business ventures together. In 1889, they started a printing shop and began to run two newspapers, the West Side News, and The Tattler. Orville’s high school friend, Paul Laurence Dunbar, edited The Tattler, for the African American Community.    

The brothers also designed printing presses and sold their creations to other printers. They were well known, and their unique craftsmanship did not go unnoticed, for the two had a talent for mastering technical problems in mechanical designs.

In 1892, as bicycles became a popular trend in the county, the two opened a shop. They not only sold and fixed bikes but also designed their own. Their business endeavors prepared them for their greatest challenge, the building of flying machines. And it was here in the back of their shop that the two began to build their glider.

The pair also continued to stay updated on the latest aeronaut scientific research, and they studied the works of the German aviator, Otto Lilienthal. When the German researcher died in a glider crash, the Wright men decided to start their own experiments. The men continued to work on their design and researched how to perfect the wings of a glider. The Wright brothers scrutinized birds and established a model called “wing warping,” and added a moveable rudder to their aircraft. 

All their hard work finally found its own reward when on December 17, 1903, they successfully launched their flying machine. After a coin toss, Orville first took to the skies over Kitty Hawk. That first attempt lasted about 12 seconds. They took turns as they flew until Wilbur hovered their glider for 59 seconds at 852 feet. After those initial flights, the aircraft never flew again. It received severe damage from winds that flipped the machine and crushed the framework. The brothers had their glider crated and sent home to Dayton. However, the flying machine did find its way to one more adventure. In 1969, Neil Armstrong paid tribute to the Wright brothers, for he carried bits of their flying machine with him when he took his first steps on the moon.  

After their success at Kitty Hawk, many still doubted their story. Wilbur decided to move to France since he believed he would have an interested audience. In time, Orville and their sister Katharine joined their brother, and the trio found fame. In fact, the three were so close that people even called Katherine the third Wright brother. They made flights and offered rides to the public, especially the journalists and public officials. The media loved the Wrights and shared their success with the world. In Europe, the brothers sold their aircraft designs and later returned to the states in 1909. The men became wealthy as they filled airplane contracts in Europe and the United States.

Although the Wright Brothers faced enormous obstacles, they never gave up on their passion. Their determination and spunk knew no bounds even when hurdles found their way into their lives. The two brothers met each challenge and found a solution to each problem. And in the end, the Wright legacy has continued to fascinate the world at large.

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Family Tree

Sources

  1. Crouch, Tom D. “Wright Brothers.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 4 Mar. 2020, http://www.britannica.com/biography/Wright-brothers.
  2. History.com Editors. “Wright Brothers.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 6 Nov. 2009, www.history.com/topics/inventions/wright-brothers.
  3. McCullough, David. The Wright Brothers. Simon & Schuster , 2015.
  4. Meares, Hadley. “Orville and Wilbur Wright: The Brothers Who Changed Aviation.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 2 Aug. 2019, http://www.biography.com/news/orville-wilbur-wright-brothers-first-flight.
  5. “Wilbur Wright, Child Photo Portrait.” Category:Public Domain – Wikimedia Commons, Wikimedia Foundation, 18 Oct. 2016, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Public_domain.
  6. “Wright Family Tree : Articles and Essays : Wilbur and Orville Wright Papers at the Library of Congress : Digital Collections : Library of Congress.” The Library of Congress, Congress.gov, http://www.loc.gov/collections/wilbur-and-orville-wright-papers/articles-and-essays/wright-family-tree/.
  7. “Young Orville Wright, Child Photo Portrait.” Category:Public Domain – Wikimedia Commons, Wikimedia Foundation, 18 Oct. 2016, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Public_domain.

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