Without any formal experience or education in aeronautics, The Wright Brothers built the first airplane in world history. How were they so successful? Here is their story.
Wilbur and Orville Wright were born four years apart and were the youngest children in the Wright family. The children of Bishop Milton Wright and Susan Catherine, a mechanically adept woman who made toys for her children.
In their youth, the boys were encouraged to study and explore whatever caught their interest. From books to sports, the Wright brothers had various niches of interests. The love of flight was the one that brought them together in a way that would change history.
For the Love of Flight
When the boys were 11 and 7, respectively, their father, Milton, brought them a 50 cent helicopter comprised of paper, bamboo, cork, and rubber bands for the blades. The toy ignited a curiosity to build their own flying machine. This hobby lasted over the next few years but died when they failed to make one that was aerodynamic enough to fly. In 1889, a year after Wilbur would have graduated college, had he not deferred due to a heart condition, the boys began working together again. First, they built a printing press and distributed a weekly paper. Later on, it was a daily printed paper. Three years later, in Dayton, Ohio, the brothers opened a bicycle shop, Wright Cycle Company, and started to producing bikes. The same year that Orville pioneered a self-oiling wheel hub, 1896, the boys learned of the death of a prominent German aviator, Otto Lilienthal. His work showed the world that flight was possible for man. That is when the Wright Brothers began experimenting.
The First Flight
The Chief of the U.S. Weather Bureau, upon request, sent the brothers a list of high wind locations in the U.S. The first place on the list, Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, is where Orville and Wilbur Wright started testing wing design with a wind tunnel, kites, and gliders. From 1900-1903 they worked steadily. In 1902 they patented their “Flying machine,” and in 1903, they conducted the first airplane flight in a “powered, controlled, heavier-than-air airplane.”
Initially, the Wright brothers were not accepted or taken seriously by flight experts or the public at large in the United States. To find a more supportive market, Wilbur flew to France. The following year Orville and their younger sister Katharine moved to Europe, as well. France took the Wright Brothers and their invention seriously and treated the brothers richly. They held audiences with government heads and royalty. More importantly, they sold their planes. They were well-respected and wealthy.
In 1909, the U.S. government signed a contract with the Wright Brothers to use their plane model as the first military aircraft.
Although, Orville had demonstrated flight over Fort Meyer, Virginia, for the army a year prior, in 1908.
In 1912 Wilbur Wright died of typhoid fever. He was 45 years old. His brother lived to be 77 and worked to maintain their legacy.