10 Things You May Not Know About The Wright Brothers
Orville and Wilbur are legendary innovators known all around the world for good reason – they invented the airplane and taught the world to fly! As we begin another year where travel by flight will continue more than ever, we thought you might enjoy a few fun facts about the Wright Brothers. Some of these things you may already know and a few things that may surprise you!
1 – The Wright brothers were raised and lived most of their lives in Dayton. Wilbur was born near Millville, Indiana and Orville was born in Dayton. The family briefly moved to Iowa in 1878, then Richmond, Indiana in 1881, before returning to Dayton in 1884. The brothers would then spend the remainder of their lives in Dayton.
2 – Thanks to a coin toss, Orville was the first brother airborne. The brothers tossed a coin to see who would first test the Wright Flyer on the sands of Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. Older brother Wilbur won the toss, but his first attempt failed. Orville went second and managed to fly for 12 seconds. Later that day, Wilbur flew their plane for 59 seconds, over a distance of 852 feet.
3 – A toy launched their flying obsession. When the brothers were youngsters in 1878, their father returned home one evening with a gift that he tossed into the air. “Instead of falling to the floor, as we expected,” the brothers recalled in a 1908 magazine article, “it flew across the room till it struck the ceiling, where it fluttered awhile, and finally sank to the floor.” The model helicopter made of cork, bamboo and paper and powered by a rubber band mesmerized the boys and sparked their passion for aviation.
4 – Neither brother received a high school diploma or ever married. Wilbur finished four years of high school, but the family moved from Richmond, Indiana, to Dayton, Ohio, before he could receive his diploma. Orville, although intellectually curious, dropped out of high school before his senior year to launch a printing business. The tight-knit brothers, born four years apart, were wedded to their continued work; Wilbur told reporters that he didn’t have time for both a wife and an airplane.
5 – The Wright brothers once printed a daily newspaper together. In 1889, Orville and Wilbur started a newspaper printing business, publishing a weekly, and later a daily, newspaper – they even designed and built their own printing presses! In 1892 they opened a bicycle repair shop to capitalize on the national bicycle craze. They designed their own bicycle with custom features like an oil-retaining wheel hub and coaster brakes, things still used today in many modern bikes. Their bicycle business financed their work on inventing the world’s first controlled flight of a power-driven, manned, heavier-than-air plane.
6 – The Wright Flyer I cost about $1,000 to build. The Wright brothers financed the plane entirely by themselves. The framework was made of spruce, with twin “pusher” propellers and a specially designed engine, cast mainly from lightweight aluminum. It was the first controlled and powered flying machine that could fly with the weight of humans. From this design, the modern airplane was born!
7 – The Wright brothers flew together just one time. Orville and Wilbur had promised their father, who feared losing both sons in an airplane accident, they would never fly together. The father made a single exception, however, on May 25, 1910, and allowed the brothers to share a six-minute flight near Dayton with Orville piloting and Wilbur the passenger. After landing, Orville took his 82-year-old father on his first and only flight. As Orville gained elevation, his excited father cried out, “Higher, Orville, higher!”
8 – After the first day airborne, the 1903 Wright Flyer never flew again. The brothers made four flights in the Wright Flyer on December 17, 1903, and as Orville and Wilbur stood discussing the final flight, a sudden strong gust of wind caught hold of the aircraft and flipped it several times. The aircraft sustained such heavy damage to its ribs, motor and chain guides that it was beyond repair. The Wright Flyer was crated back to Dayton and never flew again.
9 – Orville was involved in the first fatal aviation accident. After their success in 1903, the Wright brothers continued their aircraft development. They marketed their two-passenger Wright Military Flyer to the U.S. Army, which required a demonstration. On September 17, 1908, Orville took to the air for a demonstration flight at Fort Myer, Virginia, with Army Signal Corps Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge as a passenger. Just a few minutes into the flight, the propeller suddenly disintegrated, the aircraft spiraled out of control and it smashed into the ground at full speed. Rescuers pulled an unconscious Selfridge from the wreckage, and the lieutenant died hours later. Orville was hospitalized for six weeks after suffering a broken leg, four broken ribs and a back injury that impaired him for the rest of his life.
10 – Neil Armstrong carried a piece of the Wright Flyer with him to the moon. When another aeronautical pioneer from Ohio, Neil Armstrong, became the first man to step foot on the moon in 1969, inside his space suit pocket was a piece of muslin fabric from the left wing of the original 1903 Wright Flyer along with a piece of wood from the airplane’s left propeller.
As Ohio and North Carolina continue to feud over their legacy of which is actually the “Birthplace of Aviation”, we hope that you will continue to learn and spread the great history of the Wright Brothers and all that they had accomplished to help make travel what it is today.