InventorEnshrined 1962 1871-1948
The younger of the two Wright Brothers did not distinguish himself as a student. In fact, he earned a reputation as a mischief-maker. Orville’s tendency to disrupt class prompted his teacher to place him in the front row, where he could be carefully watched. Likewise, his grades did not reflect a truly committed scholar. But he did apply himself eagerly to learning the printing trade and, by the age of 18, had built his own printing press and started a newspaper.
- In 1890, the famous Daytonian poet Paul Laurence Dunbar asked the brothers help in starting Dayton’s first African-American newspaper.
- In 1892, the brothers started The Wright Cycle Company.
- In 1895 the brothers read about Otto Lillenthal’s glider experiments and became fascinated by flight.
- After years of study, testing, and failure the Wrights launched the first man-powered aircraft.
Orville Wright was born on August 19th, 1871 in Dayton, Ohio. He was the fourth son of Milton and Susan Wright and the second half of the famous duo that would one day lay claim to inventing the first engine powered airplane.
By 1878 the family had moved to Iowa following Milton Wright’s election as a bishop of the United Brethren in Christ Church. The family returned to Dayton in 1885 to the house on Hawthorn Street, where they remained.
In their childhood, mechanics enthralled Orville and his brother Wilbur. But it was the gift of a toy helicopter-like top from their father, which he procured on one of his many trips, that sparked the brothers’ initial interest in flying.
Orville was an average student who was known for his mischievous behavior. He quit high school before his senior year to begin a printing business. He built a printing press from a tombstone and buggy parts. The two brothers started a newpaper, and for the first time referred to themselves as “The Wright Brothers.” They published their weekly newspaper that Wilbur edited and printed. Orville was a champion cyclist and in 1892 the brothers opened a bicycle shop, repairing, selling, renting, and building bicycles.
Reading about the flights of the German gliding pioneer Otto Lilienthal in 1894 renewed the brothers’ interest in flying. The death of Lilienthal in 1896 prompted Orville and his brother to learn even more about aeronautics and in 1899 the brothers began to seriously study concepts of flight. Wilbur wrote to the Smithsonian Institution on May 30th, 1899 for information on aeronautical research. Soon they had obtained all the available scientific knowledge about aviation. Orville and his brother embarked on a scientific approach to flight, testing wing concepts in their homemade wind tunnel before attempting powered flight.
By 1901 Orville and his brother were testing their gliders on the sand dunes of Kill Devil Hill near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. They spent the next year and a half perfecting their machine, building propellers and a lightweight engine. All their hard work paid off on a cold cloudy morning on December 17th, 1903. They successfully made the first sustained controlled powered flight with Orville at the controls and flew 120 feet in 12 seconds. They accmomplished four flights that day with Wilbur making the longest, flying 852 feet in 59 seconds.
Orville and his brother continued their experiments and in 1908 Wilbur took their airplane to France, stunning the European aviation community. They soon received a contract with the U.S. Department of War for the first military airplane. They formed the Wright Company to manufacture their airplanes and they opened a flying school.
Wilbur died in 1912 of typhoid fever just as the aviation industry was beginning to make great strides and assume its place on the world stage. Three years later Orville sold his share of the Wright Company but continued to perform aeronautical research in his lab. He received the first Guggenheim Medal in 1929 for his and Wilbur’s contributions to aviation. Orville continued to be active in the aeronautical filed as a consultant and an engineer until his death in 1948.
Orville and his brother Wilbur were the first aviation pioneers to be inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1962.
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