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Wright, Orville and Wilbur

Wright, Orville and Wilbur, inventors of the airplane and pioneer aviators. Wilbur and Orville Wright went to local schools in Ohio, Indiana, and Iowa; neither attended college. In 1889, the brothers established a printing shop in their home town of Dayton, Ohio. In addition to providing normal printing services, they launched two unsuccessful newspapers and built presses for other local printers. They expanded in 1892, establishing a bicycle sales and repair facility. By 1896, they were manufacturing bicycles of their own design.

The Wrights first became interested in heavier‐than‐air flight between 1896 and 1899. They built and flew one kite (1899); three gliders (1900, 1901, 1902); and three powered machines (1903, 1904, 1905). The disappointing performance of the first two gliders led them to undertake a series of key experiments with a wind tunnel (1901). Their clarity of vision, capacity to solve the most difficult problems (particularly with regard to roll controls), and their determination to design their machine through solid experimentation set them apart from their contemporaries.

The Wright brothers made the world's first powered, sustained, and controlled flights with a heavier‐than‐air machine near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on the morning of 17 December, 1903. They returned to Dayton, where they continued their experiments quietly in a local cow pasture for two more years. By fall 1905, they had built the world's first practical airplane. In the summer and fall of 1908, they won world fame with their first demonstration flights in Europe and America.

The Wrights never doubted that world governments would be their primary customers. They signed their first contract for the sale of a military airplane to the U.S. Army in 1908. In 1909, in cooperation with a group of financiers, they founded the Wright Company to build and sell airplanes in the United States, and licensed various manufacturers to produce their machines in Europe. That same year, they trained the first group of U.S. military airmen. The Wrights taught many officers to fly, including Lt. Kenneth Whiting, the U.S. Navy aviator who commanded the first U.S. military unit to arrive in France during World War I, and “Hap” Arnold, who would command U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II.

Wilbur and Orville Wright achieved an extraordinarily difficult technical goal that had eluded engineers for over a century. The airplane, a product of their combined inventive genius, would reshape the history of the twentieth century, redefine the notion of battle, and open the way to total war.
[See also Air Warfare.]


Marvin W. McFarland, ed., The Papers of Wilbur and Orville Wright, 1953.
Charles Harvard Gibbs‐Smith , The Wright Brothers and the Rebirth of European Aviation, 1974.
Tom D. Crouch , The Bishop's Boys: A Life of Wilbur and Orville Wright, 1989.
Peter Jakob , Visions of a Flying Machine: The Wright Brothers and the Process of Invention, 1990.

Tom D. Crouch

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