Genres: 20th Century, Biography & Autobiography, History, Nonfiction
On a winter day in 1903, in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, two unknown brothers from Ohio changed history. But it would take the world some time to believe what had happened: the age of flight had begun, with the first heavier-than-air, powered machine carrying a pilot. Who were these men and how was it that they achieved what they did? David McCullough, two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, tells the surprising, profoundly human story of Wilbur and Orville Wright. Far more than a couple of unschooled Dayton bicycle mechanics who happened to hit on success, they were men of exceptional courage and determination, and of far-ranging intellectual interests and ceaseless curiosity, much of which they attributed to their upbringing. The house they lived in had no electricity or indoor plumbing, but there were books aplenty, supplied mainly by their preacher father, who encouraged their studying. As individuals they had differing skill sets and passions but as a team they excelled in any given task . That they had no more than a public high school education, little money and no patron to open doors to their desires, never stopped them in their goal to take to the air. Nothing did, not even the self-evident reality that every time they took off in one of their contrivances, they risked being killed, or, at the very least, maimed. In this thrilling book, master historian David McCullough draws on the immense riches of the Wright Papers, including private diaries, notebooks, scrapbooks, and more than a thousand letters from private family correspondence to tell the human side of the Wright Brothers' story, including the little-known contributions of their sister, Katharine, without whom things might well have gone differently for them.
Everybody sort of knows the story of the Wright Brothers but in listening to this book I realized that I didn’t know much about them as people.
They were the youngest sons of a preacher who traveled widely. They were very well read and educated. Even their sister graduated from college but Wilbur and Orville did not attend college. They started a printing business and then moved to bicycles.
They had been fascinated with flight since playing with some flying toys as children. To get started with real flight experiments they wrote to the Smithsonian and asked for copies of all the research papers they had. From there they experimented.
They decided to go to Kitty Hawk North Carolina because of the constant wind. They first built gliders that could replicate some of the wing movements of birds. It didn’t flap but they could steer by slightly changing the angle of the wings.
They would spend the fall at Kitty Hawk and then go back to their store in Dayton Ohio to make enough money to finance the next year.
Eventually they were able to fly with a motor. They then moved everything back to Ohio and tried to convince the world that they could fly. No one would believe them. Local reporters wouldn’t cover the story and said they were cranks even though people went out to watch them fly all the time. They tried to get a contract with the government but the government said they couldn’t do that because there was no proof they could fly. No one from the government would come out to see. I was super frustrated for them while listening to this part of the story.
Eventually, they made contact with the French government and Wilbur and a plane went to France. Again, no one believed they could fly. French aviation was considered the best in the world so they couldn’t fly yet so there was no way some backwoods Americans were going to be able to. Public demonstrations were made and finally, the officials believed. Wilbur became a star in France.
Orville was doing similar demos in Maryland for the U.S. government until a crash that killed a passenger and critically injured Orville.
I’m impressed with the imagination it took to figure out how to do something brand new and then explain it to the world.
This book made me understand this other book better.
In this book there is a lot of talk about the supremacy of French aviation. Now I know why they were so into it. Wilbur Wright was a sensation and he taught some pilots before he went back to the U.S. The French aviation industry was energized in the year Wilbur spent there.