After visiting the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historic Park with its emphasis on Wilbur and Orville Wright, I was interested in learning more about the Wright brothers. So I got a book from the library, “The Wright Brothers” by David McCullough.
David McCullough is one of the premier historians and writers of our time. He was won the Pulitzer Prize twice (for his books “Truman” and “John Adams”) and his books are always extensively researched. He has worked with Ken Burns on the Civil War series as well as a current series “Historians against Donald Trump.”
David McCullough’s book on the Wright brothers contains McCullough’s usual strong scholarship. The Wright brothers were not jet-setters and you would never have seen them on “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” They were brilliant, tenacious work-aholics who solved the problem of flight one step at a time. The work was tedious, exacting, and – if you want lifestyles with more excitement to them – might look boring to some people.
Orville and Wilbur Wright were the sons of a minister and they believed in hard work. They worked 12 to 14 hours a day every day except Sunday when they observed a Sabbath. They put their full time and attention to whatever problem they were trying to solve. While others spent thousands of dollars in government money on the problem of flight, the Wright brothers financed all their airplanes with the profits from their bicycle shop. In fact, they turned down outside funding because they didn’t want the distraction.
For years after 1903, people didn’t believe they had flown because it wasn’t in the news. Wilbur and Orville never sought publicity and they tried, as much as possible, to stay out of the limelight. Many premier papers refused to publish news of their success because the Dayton papers did not publish it. If the hometown paper didn’t believe Orville and Wilbur had flown, why should someone else? The US government turned down the Wright brothers’ offer of their airplane several times because they thought they were just another couple of crackpots.
It wasn’t until Wilbur took the airplane to France and began demonstrating it that the world news really took notice. Wilbur, Orville, and their sister Katherine, spent several years in Europe being feted and celebrated, despite living in obscurity in Dayton. Finally Dayton celebrated its hometown geniuses and recognized their inventive contributions.
Unfortunately Wilbur died of typhoid fever in 1912, at the age of 45, shortly after returning from a second triumphant tour of Europe. Orville only flew a few times after Wilbur’s death. He spent most of the rest of his life fighting patent violations. He lived simply and quietly, but stepped out into the limelight when requested.
“The Wright Brothers” by David McCullough is an excellent biography of the brothers. It describes their tenacious natures and how both of them were better together than they were by themselves. Neither could have invented the airplane without the other and so their names will be forever linked.
“If I were giving a young man advice as to how he might succeed in life, I would say to him, pick out a good father and mother, and begin life in Ohio.” Wilbur Wright