Wilbur Wright (1867-1912) and Orville Wright (1871-1948) were born in Indiana and Ohio, respectively. The brothers were born to a strict yet loving family. Their father was a religious man who moved the family according to his responsibilities to the church. Orville and Wilbur’s mother was a key influence and motivator in their lives. As children, Wilbur and Orville also looked to their mother for mechanical expertise and their father for intellectual challenge.
Wilbur and Orville’s father, Milton Wright, frequently brought the boys back trinkets and toys that he had collected during his travels for the church. One of these gifts was a toy helicopter. The Wright brothers later stated that it was this toy helicopter that sparked their interest in aviation. Growing up both Wilbur and Orville were average students, and both brothers completed their high school education. Wilbur suffered a severe injury, and Orville started a printing business after his schooling so neither of the brothers left to attend college. This was a fortunate occurrence indeed, for had they been separated, the plane as we know it may never have been invented.
In August of 1900, Wilbur built his first glider. In one of Wilber’s interviews he said, “For some years I have been afflicted with the belief that flight is possible to man.” “It is possible to fly without motors, but not without knowledge and skill.” The Wright brothers were very thorough in the tests that they conducted before they ever took flight. They studied average wind speeds, the effects of different wing spans and shapes, wind tunnel effects, etc. before they built the famous1903 Flyer.
On December 14, 1903, in Kitty Hawk, Wilbur won a coin toss and made the first attempt to fly the machine. Initially the flyer stalled on take-off. This caused some minor damages that had to be repaired. But Orville soon made the next attempt on December 17 at 10:35 a.m. The Wright brothers had successfully made the first “heavier-than-air, machine-powered flight” in the world. The flight lasted only 12 seconds and covered just 120 feet. Nevertheless, he flew, and in doing so, accomplished what men before him had only dreamed of doing. (The original plane that flew at Kitty Hawk was placed in a Science Museum in London in 1928. Twenty years later, the museum sent the plane back to the United States. It can now be seen at the National Air Museum in Washington, D.C.)
The Wright brothers are a prime example of the power of determination. These brothers were not, by scholastic standards, very educated. Yet, they were the ones who invented a machine that literally changed our world. These boys showed true determination and dedication to working hard by opening both a printing and a bicycle shop during their lifetimes. They took it upon themselves to study birds and how they flew. They contacted other people who were trying to fly in the attempt that they could learn from both their successes and their mistakes. They made a wind tunnel at their shop to test different kinds of wings. They experimented with model versions of their flying machines before building life-size prototypes. Even after experiencing a terrible accident where a good friend of the Wright brothers was killed in a test flight, the brothers continued working.
Without the Wright brothers, even the simplest comforts that we enjoy would be impossible to receive or at least, would be much less convenient. Air travel ensures that we have fresh fruit from Guatemala at our local markets and that our packages to Zimbabwe arrive safely. Everyday, whether we ourselves board a plane or not, we benefit from the initiative of the Wright brothers.