The Wright Brothers

Unabashed pride for Orville and Wilbur Wright

Wilbur Wright

April 16, 1867 – May 30, 1912

 Orville Wright

 August 19, 1871 – January 30, 1948


 Wright Brothers at Huffman Prairie


Wilbur Wright was born on April 16, 1867, in Millville, Indiana. Orville was born on August 19, 1871, in Dayton, Ohio. Their parents were Milton Wright and Susan Catherine Wright. The Wrights' siblings included two older brothers, Reuchlin and Lorin, and a younger sister, Katharine. Milton Wright was a bishop in the Church of the United Brethren in Christ and editor of the church newspaper.

The Wright brothers were two of seven children born to Milton Wright (1828–1917), of English and Dutch ancestry, and Susan Catherine Koerner (1831–1889), of German and Swiss ancestry.[16][17] Milton Wright's mother, Catherine Reeder, was descended from the progenitor of the Vanderbilt family and the Huguenot Gano family of New Rochelle, New York.[18] Wilbur was born near Millville, Indiana, in 1867; Orville in Dayton, Ohio, in 1871. The brothers never married. The other Wright siblings were Reuchlin (1861–1920), Lorin (1862–1939), Katharine (1874–1929), and twins Otis and Ida (born 1870, died in infancy). The direct paternal ancestry goes back to a Samuel Wright (b. 1606 in Essex, England) who sailed to America and settled in Massachusetts in 1636.

Wilbur and Orville attended the local public schools in Dayton, but neither graduated from high school or attended college. Nevertheless, they grew up in an environment that encouraged creative and intellectual development. Their household included a large family library from which the brothers read extensively. While not necessarily well schooled, the brothers were well educated.

The Wright brothers were continually looking for new challenges. As young men, the two brothers went into business together. In 1889, they opened a print shop and published a local newspaper using a printing press they designed and built. In 1892, they opened their own bicycle shop. By 1896, they were manufacturing their own bicycles called Wright Flyers. It was their interest in flight, however, that led to their fame as adults and reshaped the world.

The Wright brothers' interest in flight was inspired by the feats of gliders such as Otto Lilienthal, who died in a glider crash, but demonstrated that manned flight was possible. Reading everything available, the brothers began experimenting with wing designs for an airplane. Starting in 1900, they conducted numerous tests on the sand dunes at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Gradually, their experiments led them to envision a bi-plane that could be guided by warping the wings. Wing-warping enabled the pilot to control the plane by creating more or less lift on the wings on either side of the airplane. Their ingenious design created the breakthrough needed to achieve controlled, manned air flight.

The final ingredient necessary for sustained, manned air flight was a power source. The Wright brothers determined that a propeller driven by a gasoline engine could provide enough power to sustain flight. When they tried to purchase a lightweight engine that met their specifications they were unable to find one. So, typical of their nature, they built their own.

On December 14, 1903, the Wright brothers were ready to test the aircraft they had built. With Wilbur at the controls, the experiment failed and the plane sustained minor damage. After repairing the aircraft, they tried again on December 17. This time, with Orville piloting, the plane stayed in the air for 12 seconds and covered 120 feet. The length and duration of the flight were not much by today's standards, but the Wright brothers had demonstrated that sustained flight in a heavier than air craft was possible. The brothers tested their aircraft three more times that day with increasing levels of success. The final flight of the day carried Wilbur 8 52 feet in 59 seconds.

Many Americans, including journalists, did not believe the story of the Wright brothers' first flight. Only five Ohio newspapers covered the story. The others refused to believe that flight was possible. The brothers continued to experiment with their aircraft, moving their operations to Huffman Field near Dayton. Back in Dayton, Ohio, the brothers found they had much to do to perfect their invention. While the 1903 Wright Flyer did indeed fly, it was underpowered and difficult to control. They established the world's first test flight facilities at Huffman Prairie, northeast of Dayton (today, the site of Wright Patterson Air Force Base). For two years they made flight after flight, fine tuning the controls, engine, propellers, and configuration of their airplane. At first, they could only fly in a straight line for less than a minute. But by the end of 1905, they were flying figure-eight's over Huffman Prairie, staying aloft for over half an hour, or until their fuel ran out. The 1905 Wright Flyer was the world's first practical airplane.

Initially, they found it difficult to obtain the funding they needed to capitalize on their invention. They attempted to interest the United States military, but government officials were skeptical. In 1906, the Wrights received a patent for their invention, providing them the security they needed to pursue funding more openly, without fear of competitors stealing their designs. By 1909, they obtained enough financial support to organize the Wright Company. With Wilbur serving as president and Orville as vice-president, the company manufactured airplanes in Dayton and operated a flight school at Huffman Field.

Wilbur Wright's tenure as company president was cut short when he contracted typhoid fever. He died on May 30, 1912. Orville assumed his brother's position as president of the company, but he had little taste for executive life. He sold the company in 1915 and retired from the aircraft business. Orville made his last flight as a pilot in 1918. For the next 30 years, Orville served as an adviser on numerous aviation boards and organizations, including the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the predecessor to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). In January 1948, at the age of 76, Orville Wright suffered a heart attack and died at Dayton. The brothers are buried in the family plot at Woodland Cemetery in Dayton.


Hawthorn Hill


With its white pillars and twin porches, Hawthorn Hill has long been synonymous with Orville Wright and the Wright family. After purchasing property at the corner of Salem Avenue and Harvard Boulevard in Dayton, the Wright brothers’ younger sister, Katharine Wright, soon cajoled her world famous brothers to move construction to Oakwood’s rolling, idyllic hills. Although both Orville and Wilbur were involved in planning the home, Wilbur died of typhoid fever on May 30, 1912, at age 45.

Upon completion in 1914, Hawthorn Hill became the residence of Orville, Katharine, and their elderly father, Bishop Milton Wright. Over the next 34 years, the mansion welcomed Charles Lindbergh, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and other luminaries.

When Orville died on January 30, 1948, Hawthorn Hill was purchased by National Cash Register (NCR) for use as a corporate guest house. For 58 years, the historic home was wonderfully preserved, but only open intermittently. Many regional residents long wondered what sat inside Orville’s mysterious mansion high upon an Oakwood hilltop.


 The Wright Brothers at Carillon Park

The Wright brothers would be highlighted at the new Dayton attraction, and Deeds proposed building a replica of their 1903 Wright Flyer for display. Orville had a different idea: The 1905 Wright Flyer III was in storage, although it needed some restoration. Deeds jumped at the thought. Not only did the plane fly in Dayton (taking off and landing from a small cow pasture known as Huffman Prairie), Orville considered it the most important aircraft he and his brother had ever built. 

The 1905 Wright Flyer III is considered the world’s first practical airplane. The Wright brothers’ 1903 design that flew at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, was airborne for less than a minute during each of its four B-line flights (Orville was the pilot during the first one), and a reimagined 1904 version failed to fix significant control issues. But the brothers’ 1905 craft could turn figure eights, land and take off again. On Oct. 5, 1905, Wilbur flew the plane for nearly 40 minutes — so long he ran out of gas. 

Orville oversaw the restoration of his Wright Flyer III and helped design Wright Hall, the building that houses the plane at Carillon Historical Park. Visitors encounter the legendary machine displayed in an open pit, offering an impressive view of the plane’s more than 40-foot wingspan. This was Orville’s idea. His wish was that visitors look down on the plane to understand how the controls really work. Today, a figure of Wilbur lies flat on his stomach across the middle of the machine. There was no seat. Instead, the pilot was nestled in a hip cradle, with a joystick-like mechanism in his left hand and a paddle-like mechanism in his right. Together, they controlled the plane’s three primary axes: roll, pitch and yaw. 

Huffman Prairie

Consider a visit to nearby Huffman Prairie

Practically unchanged from when the Brothers used it for test flights.


Plans for the Future

November 29, 2018

DAYTON, Ohio (WKEF/WRGT) - A massive tower that will stand almost as tall as the Statue of Liberty is one step closer to becoming reality in the Miami Valley.

The Triumph of Flight monument is planned to stand in the southwest corner of the I-70 and I-75 interchange in Dayton.

The Berry Family Foundation and Kettering Fund have recently made commitments to the Wright Image Group to support the additional need of land for the statue.

The statue will stand 270 feet stall and would be visible from up to three miles. The Trump of Flight will pay tribute to the Wright Brothers' flight legacy, and will be stainless steel statue of the Wright Flyer III, which is the plane the Dayton natives used for their famous Kitty Hawk flight in 1903. "While we still have a great deal more work to do," said Executive Director Curt Nelson, "I cannot overstate the importance of having the support of these two Dayton-based and highly respected organizations. As we reach out to potential benefactors having a more national focus, a solid base of support locally is extremely important."

Once funding is secured for the monument, construction is expected to take about two years. The Wright Image Group is estimating that the monument's price tag will be $22 million. In addition to the monument, there will be an Evolution of Flight Park at its base which will house a reflecting pool, a 10,000 square-foot STEM learning center and bronze statues of Orville and Wilbur Wright, Neil Armstrong and John Glenn.




The New York Times

Review: ‘The Wright Brothers’ by David McCullough

Orville Wright lands one of the early Wright gliders badly, as his brother Wilbur watches.CreditTopical Press Agency/Getty Images

A lot of books about the Wright Brothers are written for children. Maybe that’s because these two aviation pioneers are better known for their work than for anything personal, and because inventing the first viable airplane is more exciting than anything else about them. Or because the Wrights’ asceticism and single-mindedness sound so uncomplicatedly heroic.

It must also have helped that these solemn-looking loners from Dayton, Ohio, triumphed over the perception that they were merely bonkers. “We couldn’t help thinking they were just a pair of poor nuts,” a resident of the area near Kitty Hawk, N.C., would recall about seeing Wilbur and Orville Wright stand for hours watching giant seabirds as they soared over the beach. The Wrights would flap along, using their own wrists and elbows to learn the motion of the birds’ wings.

David McCullough CreditWilliam B. McCullough

The Wrights have been a welcome inspiration to David McCullough, whose last big book, “The Greater Journey” (2011), was about assorted, unrelated Americans venturing to Paris in pursuit of culture and badly needed a better raison d’être. And Mr. McCullough’s primary audience is not kids, though many of them may appreciate “The Wright Brothers.” He writes for fathers, as in Father’s Day, with publication dates usually well timed for that holiday. (Marketing aside, anyone can enjoy them.) So the same dads who got blue-ribbon gifts of “1776,” “John Adams,” “Truman,” “Mornings on Horseback” or other McCullough chestnuts should enjoy the way this author takes the Wrights’ story,

Merely by choosing them, Mr. McCullough makes his subjects extra-estimable. And in the case of the Wrights that may be fitting. If Wilbur, the older, bossier and more rigorous brother, ever had an impassioned relationship with any human being who was not a blood relative or fellow aviation enthusiast, this isn’t the book to exhume it. Mr. McCullough appreciates Wilbur’s aloofness, intelligence and austerity, even after he became a celebrity. During the Wrights’ grand, two-day welcome home whoop-de-do in Dayton, a New York Times reporter caught them sneaking off to work in their shop three times on the first day.

The brothers, five years apart, grew up to do everything together. Though Wilbur was much more dominant — he wrote better and seemed a natural leader — he and Orville were careful to share whatever opportunities came their way. After the 18-year-old Wilbur was hit with a hockey stick (by a 15-year-old future murderer, whose victims would include his parents and brother) and suffered debilitating facial injuries, he gave up on the idea of leaving Dayton for a higher education. Instead, he lived out his teens as a recluse and reader. Then he and Orville developed a love of bicycles, learned to make them and started their own business. In the plus ça change department, it’s interesting to read how Dayton’s alarmists of the 1890s saw the bicycle as something that could corrupt innocent youth, cause children to stray far from home, keep them from reading books, encourage sexual freedom and so on.

This concise, exciting and fact-packed book sees the easy segue between bicycling and aerial locomotion, which at that point was mostly a topic for bird fanciers and dreamers. But there were automobiles in Dayton’s streets, so who knew what might happen in its skies? The Wrights read everything they could about flight and wrote to anyone who might reply, from the first experimenters to the Smithsonian Institution. Relying on their imaginations, inexpensive materials, bicycle-related ideas about steering and modest sums they earned at the shop, they would ultimately embarrass the Smithsonian and its grandiose, government-funded flying experiments that were conducted on (and generally flopped right back into) the Potomac.


The setting for their own experiments had been carefully chosen. Without having seen Kitty Hawk, part of North Carolina’s Outer Banks, the Wrights learned that its steady, moderate winds and its expansive soft beach were ideal for testing gliders and then modified versions with motors. The beauty of that first Kitty Hawk flight in 1903 was the solitude on a windswept beach in which Orville, flying against the wind and staying aloft in spite of it, changed the course of history.

Many competitors lay in wait, of course. One opportunistic French friend even made the Wrights sound like his protégés. But once Wilbur, the relative charm ambassador of the family, went to France to discuss the Wright plane’s future (after the United States government had more or less ignored it), the Wrights’ prominence grew too important to ignore. Wilbur found himself demonstrating air feats for kings, while Orville, having crashed a plane in a demonstration flight outside Washington, was out of commission for a while. (Orville would become more famous later on.)

He was nursed by his sister, Katherine, the scoldy but dependable member of the extremely close-knit Wright family. There were also two other brothers not nearly as close as the bachelors Orville and Wilbur, who could seem like twins. And there was their father Milton, a bishop of a Protestant denomination. The Wrights avoided flying together in a plane until Milton reached his 80s and felt he had nothing to lose — and a tremendous thrill to gain.

Mr. McCullough presents all this with dignified panache, and with detail so granular you may wonder how it was all collected. He is helpful in explaining just how this book was put together: with his own substantial library research and reading, the help of an assistant who did much necessary traveling, a translator, the good people of Kitty Hawk, a huge amount of Wright family data and even a Royal typewriter specialist to keep his instrument in working order. The Wrights loved recording that kind of information. Why shouldn’t he?


By David McCullough