From Newspapers to Airplanes: Orville and Wilbur Wright

Born August 19, 1871 and April 16, 1867 to Milton and Susan Catherine Koerner, Orville and Wilbur Wright led an extraordinary life of adventure and invention. The pair is credited with inventing, building, and operating the world’s first airplane as well as making the first flight on December 19, 1903.

Two out of a family of seven children, Orville was born outside of Millville, Indiana and Wilbur was born in Dayton, Ohio. While both brothers did attend high school, neither received a diploma. Wilbur’s high school career was interrupted in 1884 when the family moved to Dayton, Ohio, and Orville’s was seen to an end when he choose to quit as a junior to open his own printing business.

In the winter of1885-86, while playing a game with friends, Wilbur was hit in the face with a hockey stick, resulting in the loss of his front teeth. Due to his injuries, Wilbur became very withdrawn from everything, and did not enroll or attend Yale as he had previously planned. He spent most of the next 3 years of his life indoors, caring for his terminally ill mother. He also assisted his father during some controversial times with the Brethren Church.

The Newspaper Business

In 1889, the Wright brothers designed and built their own printing press, which led Orville to drop out of school to open his own business. Wilbur also shook his depression and joined Orville. They printed a weekly newspaper called “West Side News”, and a short run of the daily newspaper “Evening Item”, of which Wilbur was the editor, and Orville the publisher.

Bicycle Repair Leads to Airplane Idea

In 1892, when bicycles became a national craze, the Wright brothers opened their own bicycle repair shop, The Wright Cycle Exchange. In 1896, they began manufacturing their own brand of bikes. Their interest in flying, however, came about back in 1987 when their father worked as a bishop in the Brethren Church, brought home a small toy airplane from one of his various trips.

The plane, which measured at about a foot long, was made from paper and bamboo. It had a cork with a rubber band which spun the rotor. Orville and Wilbur played and played with the plane until it broke, then they made their own.

Their bicycle shop was ultimately what funded their ever growing interest in flight. In 1896 three aeronautical events would happen that would stick with the brothers forever. The first was when Samuel Langley, a Smithsonian Institute Secretary, successfully flew a steam-powered model aircraft in May of that year. Later that summer, Octave Chanute brought together a group of men who tested various gliders over sand dunes located along the shores of Lake Michigan. The third occurred in August 1896 when a man called Lilienthal was killed as his glider plunged to the earth.

In 1889, when another man was killed on his glider, the brothers were determined to find another way to more effectively control aircrafts. Observing birds, Wilbur decided that the way birds angled their wings to roll left or right was the key. Both brothers decided this method would be great for aircraft.

Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in 1890 is where everything began. They chose the perfect location based on suggestions in a letter Wilbur received from Octave Chanute. Closest to Dayton from the other locations Chanute had suggested; Kitty Hawk also gave the brothers much needed privacy from the press. Between 1900 and 1903, the Wright brothers experimented with and tested multiple types of glider.

The Wright Flyer was built in 1903. This was the Wright brothers’ first powered craft. The plane was crafted from spruce with hand carved propellers and a gasoline powered engine; which was subsequently built in their bicycle shop. A March 1903 entry from Wilbur Wright’s diary indicated that the craft was 66 percent efficient. As the year went on, they got up to 75 percent and 82 percent efficiency. Today’s modern wooden propellers reach maximum efficiency of 85 percent.

Albert Walker