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The Wright Brothers

Wilbur was the older of the two brothers by four years. Wilbur was born in 1867 on a farm near Millville, Indiana and Orville was born in 1871 near Dayton, Ohio. As youngsters, Wilbur and Orville looked to their mother for mechanical expertise and their father for intellectual challenge. Milton, their father, brought them various souvenirs and trinkets he found during his travels for the church. One such trinket, a toy helicopter-like top, sparked the boys' interest in flying. In school, Wilbur excelled, and would have graduated from high school if his family had not moved during his senior year. A skating accident and his mother's illness and subsequent death kept him from attending college. Orville was an average student, known for his mischievous behavior. He quit school before his senior year to start a printing business. The two brothers were very intellectual and smart, but both did not ever get their high school diplomas. It just goes to show that even two of the best minds in our history didn’t have to go to college or even finish high school to become these great minds.

The first time Wilbur and Orville referred to themselves as "The Wright Brothers" was when they started their own printing firm at the ages of 22 and 18. Using a damaged tombstone and buggy parts, they built a press and printed odd jobs as well as their own newspaper. In 1892, the brothers bought bicycles. They began repairing bicycles for friends, then started their own repair business. They opened up a bicycle shop in 1893, and three years later, made their own bicycles called Van Cleves and St. Clairs. While nursing Orville, who was sick with typhoid in 1896, Wilbur read about the death of a famous German glider pilot. The news led him to take an interest in flying. On May 30, 1899, he wrote to the Smithsonian Institution for information on aeronautical research. Within a few months after writing to the Smithsonian, Wilbur had read all that was written about flying. He then defined the elements of a flying machine: wings to provide lift, a power source for propulsion, and a system of control. Of all the early aviators, Wilbur alone recognized the need to control a flying machine in its three axes of motion: pitch, roll, and yaw. His solution to the problem of control was 'wing warping.' He came up with the revolutionary system by twisting an empty bicycle tube box with the ends removed. Twisting the surface of each 'wing' changed its position in relation to oncoming wind. Such changes in position would result in changes in the direction of flight. Wilbur tested his theory using a small kite, and it worked.

In August of 1900, Wilbur built his first glider. He then contacted the U.S. Weather Bureau for information on windy regions of the country. Reviewing the list, he chose a remote sandy area off the coast of North Carolina named Kitty Hawk, where winds averaged 13 m.p.h. He and Orville then journeyed to Kitty Hawk where they tested the 1900 glider. The following year, they tested a new and improved glider with a 22-foot wingspan. A disappointing performance by the 1901 glider prompted the Wright brothers to construct a wind tunnel to test the effectiveness of a variety of wing shapes. Using the results of the wind tunnel experiments, they constructed their 1902 glider. Testing it at Kitty Hawk in October, they met with success, gliding a record 620 feet. Once again they returned to Dayton and began work on developing a propeller and an engine for their next effort, a flying machine.

Immediately upon their return to Dayton, they wrote to a number of automobile and motor builders, stating the purpose for which they desired a motor, and asking whether they could furnish one that would develop eight-brake horse power, with a weight complete not exceeding 200 pounds. Most of the companies answered that they were too busy with their regular business to undertake the building of such a motor for them; but one company replied that they had motors rated at 8 h.p. according to the French system of ratings, which weighed only 135 pounds, and that if the brothers thought this motor would develop enough power for our purpose, they would be glad to sell them one. After an examination of the particulars of this motor, from which they learned that it had but a single cylinder of 4 inch bore and 5 inch stroke, they were afraid that it was much overrated. Unless the motor would develop a full 8 brake horse power, it would be useless for our purpose. Finally they decided to undertake the building of the motor themselves. They estimated that they could make one of four cylinders with 4 inch bore and 4 inch stroke, weighing not over two hundred pounds, including all accessories. The Wright Brothers only experience up to that time in the building of gasoline motors had been in the construction of an air-cooled motor, 5 inch bore and 7 inch stroke, which was used to run the machinery of their small workshop. To be certain that four cylinders of the size we had adopted (4" x 4") would develop the necessary 8 horse power, they first fitted them into a temporary frame of simple and cheap construction. In just six weeks from the time the design was started, they had the motor on the block testing its power. The ability to do this so quickly was largely due to the enthusiastic and efficient services of Mr. C.E. Taylor, who did all the machine work in their shop for the first as well as the succeeding experimental machines. There was no provision for lubricating either cylinders or bearings while this motor was running. For that reason it was not possible to run it more than a minute or two at a time. In these short tests the motor developed about nine horse power. We were then satisfied that, with proper lubrication and better adjustments, a little more power could be expected. The completion of the motor according to drawing was, therefore, proceeded with at once. The brothers then returned to Kitty Hawk to begin construction and begin testing of the worlds first flying machine.

Just as the building was being completed, the parts and material for the machines arrived simultaneously with one of the worst storms that had visited Kitty Hawk in years. The storm came on suddenly, blowing 30 to 40 miles an hour. It increased during the night, and the next day was blowing over seventy-five miles an hour. In order to save the tar-paper roof, we decided it would be necessary to get out in this wind and nail down more securely certain parts that were especially exposed. When Orville ascended the ladder and reached the edge of the roof, the wind caught under his large coat, blew it up around his head and bound his arms till he was perfectly helpless. Wilbur came to his assistance and held down his coat while he tried to drive the nails. But the wind was so strong he could not guide the hammer and succeeded in striking his fingers as often as the nails. The next three weeks were spent in setting the motor-machine together. On days with more favourable winds they gained additional experience in handling a flyer by gliding with the 1902 machine, which they had found in pretty fair condition in the old building , where they had left it the year before. Mr. Chanute and Dr. Spratt, who had been guests in the camp in 1901 and 1902, spent some time with the brothers, but neither one was able to remain to see the test of the motor-machine, on account of the delays caused by trouble which developed in the propeller shafts.

At twenty minutes after eleven Wilbur started on the second flight. The course of this flight was much like that of the first, very much up and down. The speed over the ground was somewhat faster than that of the first flight, due to the lesser wind. The duration of the flight was less than a second longer than the first, but the distance covered was about seventy-five feet greater. Twenty minutes later the third flight started. This one was steadier than the first one an hour before. Orville was proceeding along pretty well when a sudden gust from the right lifted the machine up twelve to fifteen feet and turned it up sideways in an alarming manner. It began a lively sliding off to the left. He then warped the wings to try to recover the lateral balance and at the same time pointed the machine down to reach the ground as quickly as possible. The lateral control was more effective than he imagined and before he reached the ground the right wing was lower than the left and struck first. The time of this flight was fifteen seconds and the distance over the ground a little over 200 feet.

Wilbur started the fourth and last flight at just 12 o'clock. The first few hundred feet were up and down, as before, but by the time three hundred feet had been covered, the machine was under much better control. The course of the next four or five hundred feet had but little mishaps. However, when out about eight hundred feet the machine began pitching again, and, in one of the its darts downward, struck the ground. The distance over the ground was measured and found to be 852 feet; the time of the flight 59 seconds. The frame supporting the front rudder was badly broken, but the main part of the machine was not injured at all. They estimated that the machine could be put in condition for flight again in a day or two.

And so it began, the beginning of a new era in travel. The flight of this new machine would change the lives of people throughout history. Without airplanes how would World War II have ended up. Without airplanes, it would still be a very long journey across the ocean in a boat. Without airplanes how could someone go see their grandparents who live thousands of miles away. Airplanes changed the geography of this world making it much easier to travel long distances and not to mention much quicker. Airplanes today can carry hundreds of people to where ever they want to go at descent fairs.

Flight changed history and geography forever and we can compliment two men for that, Wilbur and Orville Wright, “The Wright Brothers.” The Wright brothers is a name that everyone knows. People know what the brothers did and how it affected them in years to come. If you ask anyone who the Wright brothers are that anyone will know. This is how the Wright brothers are such an important part of history and geography. A journey that would have lasted two weeks before there were airplanes, now only takes a few hours by plane.

1995-2000 Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village ~

Webster’s International CD-ROM Encyclopedia ’99, 1998-99 Multimedia 2000, and Webster’s Publishing, Seattle, Washington