the Wright Brothers
by Kate Reuther
Today when most
people think of "The Wright Brothers," they picture the
intelligent, successful, inventors of the first powered airplane.
So you might be surprised to find out that Orville and Wilbur Wright
were once mischievous students who never graduated from high school.
Orville and Wilbur grew up in a large family in Dayton, Ohio. Their
father, who was a newspaper editor as well as a church bishop, encouraged
his sons to pursue their own intellectual interests, and from an
early age, Orville and Wilbur Wright were fascinated by mechanics
and flying. Once when caught by his teacher working on a toy helicopter
in class, Orville explained that one day he planned to build a machine
big enough to fly carrying them both.
In 1889, when
he was only 18 years old, Orville left high school and started a
printing business, using a press that he had made himself. Wilbur
joined the business, and they did very well. In 1893, when bicycling
had become popular, the enterprising Wright brothers decided to
open a bicycle repair shop across the street. Eventually they were
building and selling custom-made bicycles as well as repairing them.
| Orville Wright as
With two successful
businesses, the brothers could afford to spend time on their other
interests. They read everything they could get their hands on concerning
aviation and aeronautics. Orville and Wilbur were especially interested
in the experiments of other flight inventors, such as Octave Chanute
in the United States and Otto Lilienthal in Germany. The Wright
brothers were devastated when Lilienthal was killed by an unexpected
gust of wind in a glider accident in 1890. Wilbur spent days in
the library studying Lilienthal's designs and concluded that the
trick to successful flight would be inventing a plane you could
control and power. The Wright brothers would spend the next thirteen
years of their lives pursuing that dream. They achieved powered flight on December 17, 1903 (see article).
their enormous accomplishment, Orville and Wilbur were surprised
when only two newspapers reported on their first flight. Many people
suspected the Wright brothers were lying or had faked flight somehow.
The Wright brothers also were suffering from money problems. Building
airplanes is a very expensive hobby, and the Wright brothers needed
a patent for their airplane design if they expected to ever earn
any money from it. Otherwise other people could just copy and sell
their planes. Orville and Wilbur continued to improve their plane
designs and also took to doing flight demonstrations in America
and eventually also in Europe. Most people, it seemed, didn't believe
in airplanes until they saw one with their own eyes. Finally, in
1909, President Theodore Roosevelt contacted the Wright brothers
and signed a deal with them to build airplanes for the US army.
They continued to design and manufacture planes until 1912, when
Wilbur died of typhoid fever. Even though the Wright Plane Company
continued to exist after Wilbur's death, Orville sold his shares
and retired. He continued to act as a consultant to other scientists,
but Orville would not invent again without his brother.