The Wright Brothers
Transportation is revolutionized by new discoveries in aviation. When the engined airplane was first invented by the Wright brothers, the way people go from one place to another has never been the same. Today, people can go from a place to anywhere in the world in such a short time compared to riding other modes of transportation. More importantly, the Wright brothers’ invention has led to new discoveries that gave birth to an array of developments.
The invention of Orville and Wilbur Wright was considered the most important development especially in the aviation industry. Through the engined airplane, the doors opened to countless opportunities for travel, communication, and international commerce (Wright Brothers, “Biographies,” 2009). They were considered to be the aviation pioneers with the “manned, powered flight in a heavier-than-air machine” (Advameg Inc, 2007).
Wright Brothers: A Brief Biography
Wilbur and Orville were the third and the fourth sons of Milton Wright and Susan Catharine Wright. Among the two brothers, Wilbur was older, born on April 16, 1867 in Indiana. Orville was born four years later, on August 19, 1871, in Ohio. All their lives they were an inseparable pair, until Wilbur died in 1912. However, historical accounts of their biographies indicate how their personalities complemented each other. The younger Orville was an enthusiastic person and never lacks ideas. His brother, on the other hand, was more mature and was said to be steadier in his habits (Advameg Inc, 2007).
Both of them never lacked family support. The kind of family environment they grew up with allowed them to pursue whatever piqued their curiosity. The libraries in their house contained academic books (Educational Programs Office, “Biography of Orville Wright,” n.d.). In addition, their father encouraged them to pursue their interests. Furthermore, the Reverend Wright let his sons spend what money they have on their hobbies, while at the same time telling his sons to earn enough money to shoulder the costs of their projects (Kelly, 1989, p.5).
Their mother was equally an influential person in their lives. When they were young, their mother provided mechanical expertise and their father, intellectual challenge. Additionally, their father would bring them souvenirs and anything that he found during his trips for the church. Among the souvenirs was a helicopter toy, which ignited an interest among the brothers. Also, they were good at school. Wilbur always excelled. He could have graduated from high school had it not been for moving to another location during his last year. Moreover, certain events prevented him from entering college. There was a skating accident. And the worst event was Mrs. Wright’s illness which eventually led to death (Educational Programs Office, “Biography of Wilbur Wright,” n.d.).
Also, Wilbur planned to attend Yale after high school and pursue studies to become a clergyman. Unfortunately, he was involved in an accident during a hockey game which caused him facial injury. After the accident, he could no longer continue his education (Advameg Inc, 2007). However, being a “strong-willed individual” who “was able to…bounce back from physical and academic setbacks” (Educational Programs Office, “Biography of Wilbur Wright,” n.d.), Wilbur did not stop from learning. His informal education was a result of years of reading books in the family’s library (Advameg Inc, 2007).
Orville, on the other hand, was the mischievous one and was not too keen about excessive studying. In fact, when he was just five years old, his mother enrolled him to a kindergarten school near their home. Whenever he was asked about school, he would gladly say that he was getting along but did not provide details. Mrs. Wright visited the school after a while to see how her son was faring. The mother was surprised to learn from Orville’s teacher that the boy has not been attending school. As it turned out, Orville would spend time with a playmate and neighbor, Edwin Henry Sines. They would spend hours on an old sewing machine that Sines’ mother owned. The two boys would oil the machine “by dropping water from a feather into the oil-holes” (Kelly, 1989, p.6).
Orville did not continue his education. When he learned the ropes in the printing business, his interest on school waned. In 1889, he dropped out of high school and instead concentrated on a print shop that he opened. This was the same year that their mother died (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company, 2006).
The Wright brothers have such good business sense that they have ventured from any lucrative business before they focused on flying. During the years of their adulthood, the economy was characterized by depression and scarce employments. As a result, they decided to make their own business. First, they turned to printers, after which they turned their attention on newspapers before going back to printers. In addition, they rode bicycles for pleasure and later on became bicycle repairmen. Eventually they built bicycles (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company, 2006).
Throughout their early careers, Orville and Wilbur worked together on mechanical devices such as bicycles and printing presses. They have also invented an internal combustion engine, which they used for the power tools in their bicycle shop (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company, 2006). Orville was especially good at bicycling. The Wright brothers took this as an opportunity for a business. These ventures have been helpful to the mechanical aptitude of Orville and Wilbur Wright (Educational Programs Office, “Biography of Orville Wright,” n.d.). In addition, these showed their originality and business sense (Educational Programs Office, “Biography of Wilbur Wright,” n.d.). But most importantly, their experiences in all of their careers molded them as a team (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company, 2006).
Even at a very early age, the two have been interested on a lot of things. They have pursued their interests. At one time, they helped the Reverend Wright with the journal Religious Telescope. Eventually, they started their own paper, West Side News (Advameg Inc, 2007). The West Side News was fairly successful despite the scarcity of hard news. In 1890, the brothers decided to change the name to Evening Item. However, the daily could not compete with other journals. After closing the paper, they returned to job printing.
The Wright brothers also ventured into a bicycle business. The Wright Cycle Shop was established in 1892. This was said to be the “perfect occupation” for Orville and Wilbur as it involved bicycle, which at the time was a very exciting mechanical device. The knowledge they gained during this time was an essential application to the challenges they have faced while inventing the airplane (Advameg Inc, 2007).
The bicycle business started when their friends asked them to repair their bicycles. The Wright brothers have also proven to be excellent mechanics back from the days of their printing business. The bicycle business proved to be a hit. Only a year later, they were able to afford bigger quarters, and accordingly named the business The Wright Cycle Company. They focused their attention on the shop while appointed their brother Lorin to oversee the print shop (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company, 2006).
Later, Orville and Wilbur decided to build better bikes. As a result, they were able to build Van Cleve, which was top-of-the-line, and St. Claire. These were named after some Ohio pioneers. These models were manufactured according to the specifications of their customers. What the brothers did was to add original improvements to some components. The business was very lucrative that they earned $2000-$3000 a year. This was considered a hefty sum of money during the time (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company, 2006).
From their ventures, the brothers did not have problems with money. However, their parents instilled in them an interest for intellectual challenges. This was the driving force in the lives of the two men, as evidenced by their careers. Their venture from printers to building bicycles was an indication of their love for learning. After learning the basics of building bicycles, they looked for other things that were interesting (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company, 2006).
One of the very influential events in the Wright brothers’ interest in flying happened when Wilbur was 11 and Orville was 7. During this time, they have moved from Dayton to Iowa where the Reverend Wright was assigned. One time, the boys’ father came home from a church business trip, bringing a present for his sons. The Reverend Wright tossed the present towards the boys. Instead of falling to the floor or into the waiting hands of Orville and Wilbur, the thing soared to the ceiling where it stayed there for a while before falling down. The present was a helicopter consisting of cork, bamboo, and thin paper. It was an invention of Alphonse Penaud, a Frenchman. The helicopter was able to stay afloat for a few seconds due to twisted rubber bands (Kelly, 1989, p.8).
Orville and Wilbur later discovered that Penaud, even though invalid, has invented helicopters and was also the pioneer for “the use of rubber bands for motive power.” Despite the simplicity of the helicopter, the brothers were inspired by the ingenuity of the inventor. Eventually, Wilbur made improvements on that toy. He thought that if small devices fly, why not bigger ones? Although during this time Orville was unable to help his brother in constructing bigger models, he was also very interested in the models that Wilbur made (Kelly, 1989, p.8).
Another person which inspired the Wright brothers was Otto Lilienthal, a German glider. They were so interested in the success and failure of Lilienthal that the two firmly believed in the possibility of flying. Consequently, he began to read books on aviation. He strongly believed that there was an answer to the problem that has plagued many people. Wilbur thought of a system that would cause a biplane to roll right and left (Educational Programs Office, “Biography of Wilbur Wright,” n.d.).
From the time they received the helicopter from their father, Wilbur and Orville read everything scientific. Also, the magazine brought to their home featured an article about flying. These articles have been very interesting for them. Upon Lilienthal’s death from an accident, the Wright brothers were eager to know about what Lilienthal accomplished and what other people were attempting (Kelly, 1989, p.46).
During the time that Orville and Wilbur became interested in helicopters and flying, the theories of aerodynamics was known. Other additional developments during this time were experimental data and the creation of the internal combustion engine. The latter provided a source fro manned flight (Advameg Inc, 2007).
One observation that Orville and Wilbur took notice was the lack of controls of the primitive aircrafts featured on newspapers. This caused them to “wonder how a pilot might balance an aircraft in the air…” Consequently, they put into application the simple system that Wilbur thought of when his father brought a top helicopter. First, they used a kite, then gliders. It proved to be successful. In the spring of 1900, the Wright brothers went on to Kitty Hawk where they can test a glider. By the fall season, they built a glider that has controls. The controls worked (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company, 2006), although the glider did not fly due to insufficient upward force (Advameg Inc, 2007).
They recorded their failures and successes, and found out that the information they have gathered were inaccurate (Advameg Inc, 2007). However, the next glider was a failure. The controls failed, and it did not produce lift. Wilbur was near defeat, but he did not want to give up (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company, 2006). They returned to Dayton in 1901, where they built a wind tunnel, the first such tunnel in the United States. They tested more than two hundred wins surfaces so that they can measure lift and resistance (drag) factors. They also wanted to find out which was the suitable design. During this experiment, the brothers realized the lack of sufficient data or theory about propellers. Indeed, they have to solve the problem themselves (Advameg Inc, 2007).
As a result of this experiment, the Wright brothers were able to add to the “existing body of aeronautical science” (Advameg Inc, 2007). By this time, they have built the third glider. Despite the many failures, they conducted flights and consequently plan an engine to fly the aircraft. With repeated flights, Orville and Wilbur were able to correct the failed experiments. They have also been able to design the engine which would enable the aircraft and the pilot to stay in the air for longer periods of time. The Flyer 3, with Wilbur as a pilot, was said to be the first practical airplane in the world: it stayed in the air for 39 minutes (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company, 2006).
However, it was not a smooth sailing for them even after they proved that their airplane can stay longer in the air. After the success of flying the Flyer 3, the brothers were dragged into battles for patent rights. Although they won, there were accidents that involved the death of some pilots. These were too much for the Wright brothers. As a result, their skills in inventing and innovating were distracted, especially for Wilbur who died in 1912. It affected Orville, who lost interest in the airplane business and returned to inventing (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company, 2006).
Today, when people hear the names of the Wright brothers, they think of great people who never stopped at discovering. The proliferation of airplanes around the world is a testimony to the brothers’ genius. Orville and Wilbur have shown that perseverance, a thirst for knowledge, and an endless inquiry into things would bring out great results. They have also poured their devotion and commitment to their goals, and worked together as a team towards their realization. Air transportation in today’s world is greatly attributed to them.
Advameg Inc. (2007). Wright brothers biography. Retrieved May 14, 2009, from http://www.notablebiographies.com/We-Z/Wright-Brothers.html
Educational Programs Office. (n.d.). Biography of Wilbur Wright. NASA. Retrieved May 14, 2009, from http://wright.nasa.gov/wilbur.htm
Kelly, F.C. (1989). The Wright Brothers. United States: Courier Dover Publications.
Wright Brothers. (2009). Biographies. Retrieved May 14 2009, from http://wrightbrothers.info/biography
Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company. (2006). The Wright story. Retrieved May 14, 2009, from http://www.wright-brothers.org/History/Wright%20Story/wright%20story.htm