The Wright Brothers

Like Joe Rosenthal’s iconic photo of Iwo Jima, this first flight was immortalized almost by accident .

I just finished David McCullough’s wonderful book on the Wright Brothers. He did some thorough research, including many notes by them on the study of bird flight, and letters.

One theme remained with me throughout the book.


They had little money other than what they earned through their bicycle shop by their house.

They had a strong work ethic.

They persevered against all the naysayers.

Among the few persons who had faith in them to succeed were their father, a church bishop, and their sister.

They spent several summers traveling from Dayton, Ohio to Kitty Hawk, NC at their own expense to assemble their aircraft and perform test flights.

There, they not only tested their ideas but built a rudimentary cabin and hanger.

They battled hot, humid summers, storms, and in one year, swarms of mosquitos which made the place almost intolerable.

Then, when they had a demonstrable airplane, they continued testing in Ohio to an almost universal lack of interest.

The press, the US government, and the public had little interest in their activities.

In fact, one of the first periodicals to break the news of their powered flight in Ohio was not a newspaper or magazine, but a newsletter from a beekeeper.

None of this deterred them.

To generate sales, Wilber went to France where he did get a lot of interest. Over 200,000 people saw his demonstrations at LeMans.

And another amazing thing for me was that after a “critical mass” of interest in Europe (and by news, the United States) was reached, how explosive aviation development became. About a year later after those demonstrations, in 1910, was a grand air race at Reims, France.

…There were no participants from either Britain or the United States, but despite this, 76 machines were entered. They represented 14 different makes, but in the end no machines from Wright, Tellier or Maurice Farman would turn up. The most popular make was Henry Farman with 14 entrants, followed by Blériot (12), Sommer (9), Antoinette (8) and Voisin (8). Machines from Nieuport, Sanchez-Besa and Pischof (called “Werner” in the official program, after the manufacturers Werner & Pfleiderer) would appear for the first time at a French meeting.

Through those years, they never gave up. They were not motivated by wealth, but development.

Wilbur was feted in Paris and at a grand awards ceremony, he made a prediction for the future path of aviation.

At his acceptance speech on November 5th, 1908 at the Aero-Club de France’s banquet, he predicted the path of this new industry.

…I thank you for this. In the enthusiasm being shown around me, I see not merely an outburst intended to glorify a person, but a tribute to an idea that has always impassioned mankind. I sometimes think that the desire to fly after a fashion of birds is an ideal handed down to us by our ancestors who, in their grueling travels across trackless lands in prehistoric times, looked enviously at the birds soaring freely through space, at full speed, above all obstacles, on the infinite highway of the air. Scarcely ten years ago, all hope of flying had almost been abandoned; even the most convinced had become doubtful, and I confess that, in 1901, I said to my brother Orville that men would not fly for fifty years. Two years later, we ourselves were making flights. This demonstration of my inability as a prophet gave me such a shock that I have since distrusted myself and have refrained from all prediction—as my friends of the press, especially, well know. But it is not too necessary to look too far into the future; we see enough already to be certain that it will be magnificent. Only let us hurry and open the roads.

And to think just 39 years after that banquet, Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier. And just 50 years after that banquet, the passenger jet age began and crossing continents in mere hours was a reality. And 66 years after that first flight, within a lifetime, Man was on the moon.

The book is highly recommended.


Filed under Aeronautical Engineering, Airplanes, Flying, History

2 responses to “The Wright Brothers

  1. Trivia note. If you are ever visiting the Imperial War Museum, Duxford, Cambridgeshire, we have on display a roll of the very Irish Linen that Wilbur and Orville used on ‘The Flyer’.

    • The author was saying that the Smithsonian had so little interest in having their plane that it was exhibited in London for I believe 20 years.

      And their plane that has been in the Smithsonian has been in the Smithsonian had been recovered so Duxsford does have a rare display

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