June 6, 2018
Writer: IT Communication Writer
Wilbur and Orville Wright made history by building and flying a heavier-than-air machine on December 17, 1903. No one will deny the two men had talent, yet their talents were not innate gifts. Their talents were developed in their youth and cultivated over years of study and experimentation.
It was partially thanks to their parents, who nurtured their learning by helping them harness their talents through hard work and exposure to knowledge that guided them to succeed in their ventures. The Wright parents helped cultivate their sons’ talents and taught them to never give up. They urged the boys to use their intelligence to their fullest, and then to continue seeking knowledge to push themselves further. Orville once commented, “We were lucky enough to grow up in an environment where there was always much encouragement to children to pursue intellectual interests; to investigate whatever aroused curiosity .” With a father and mother who encouraged their children to learn and develop their natural born talents, the Wright boys were smart, driven entrepreneurs and scholars.
Despite the encouragement their parents gave them concerning education, neither brother went to college. In the winter of 1885, 18-year-old Wilbur Wright was hit with a hockey stick to the face, leaving him with debilitating facial injuries. His hopes of attending college were destroyed, and he became a recluse for three years. Yet as Wilbur recovered at home during those three years, he studied from his father’s extensive library and read about every subject he could to further his education. Wilbur also helped the bishop of his church with legal and church problems - skills he would later use for the management of The Wright Company.
Orville Wright, on the other hand, dropped out in his senior year of high school in 1889. He did so in order to open a print shop because he had spent the last several summers learning the trade. He convinced Wilbur to join him, and the two quickly developed a reputation for the quality of the presses they designed, built, and sold to other printers.
In 1892, the brothers opened their own bicycle shop, repairing the then-fashionable new vehicles because the brothers found the contraptions fascinating. After several years of developing their skills, the brothers also began to design their own bicycles, one of which was self-oiling.
If building printing presses and designing bicycles did anything, it gave the brothers the skills they needed for what they were to do next, and the profits from both ventures helped fund the project that made them famous. In 1899, w ith engineering skills and mechanic design learned over the course of a lifetime, the brothers got to work on learning aeronautics for flight.
Orville’s childhood love of and experience with building kites helped the pair get started on designs for their flyers, and a biplane box kite can be seen in the final design on December 17, 1903. But the Wrights were never ones to do things the traditional way. They took the harder of the two roads to develop their flyers; whereas other inventors focused on lift, which was much easier to achieve, the Wrights decided they needed to first have complete control over their flyers before they could incorporate lift.
Wilbur tried wing warping in the opposite direction from the warping used for lift - and his experiment worked. He built a biplane kite with a five-foot wingspan and controlled the banking of the kite with four strings leading to two sticks. This made the flyer easier to control. It also made lift harder to achieve, but the brothers deemed this a necessary handicap in their goal to steer the flyer. The success led to them using the box designs in their future flyers.
The Wright b rothers fought hard to keep their empire together. From 1906 to 1918, the patent war began and lawsuits flew from and against the inventors . Wilbur shouldered that burden, as well as toured Europe putting on exhibitions to showcase their flyers, gain contracts, and sell their planes. During this same time, Orville went to Washington D.C. to demonstrate their flying machines in hopes of winning government and army contracts. It was a success for both brothers.
Though the patent war took up most of their energy and the Wright Company suffered from lack of new flyers being produced, the brothers remained united in their love of design and flight, often staying up late into the night as this was the only time they had to work together.
Wilbur once wrote:
" From the time we were little children, my brother Orville and myself lived together, played together, worked together, and, in fact, thought together. We usually owned all of our toys in common, talked over our thoughts and aspirations , so that nearly everything that was done in our lives has been the result of conversations, suggestions, and discussions between us."
The brothers had grown their talents together, and lived their lives together using those talents. Having spirited arguments over their designs was a common occurrence and part of their creative process. The two would argue and defend their position with passion while considering the other’s point of view, which was essential to their inventive process. While the pair had developed skills throughout their life that had led to their success, individually what one lacked, the other excelled in.
The brothers helped hold each other up while also propelling each other forward with their drive and eagerness to try, fail, then try again till they succeeded; and the brothers achieved much in the few short years they led the aeronautics study.