Described by his teachers as quiet and “dreamy,” Wilbur managed to blend his shyness with determination and self-confidence. He would test these qualities after a hockey injury in 1886 left him a virtual invalid, struggling with heart problems, stomach complications and recurring depression. Eventually his health improved, but he would never again be robust and would lead a short, though exciting life, dying of typhoid at the age of 45.
- 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.
Wilbur Wright was born on April 16th, 1867 on a small farm near Millville, Indiana. He was the third son of Milton and Susan Wright and the first half of the famous duo that would one day lay claim to inventing the first engine powered airplane.
By the time Orville was born, four years later, the family had moved to 7 Hawthorn Street in Dayton, Ohio. By 1878 the family had moved to Iowa when Milton Wright was elected 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 fascinated Wilbur and his brother. But a toy helicopter-like top that their father acquired on one of his many trips and gave to the brothers sparked their initial interest in flying.
Wilbur was an excellent student but never received his high school diploma because the family moved during his senior year. A skating accident and his mother’s death prevented him from attending college, but it didn’t stop him from learning.
Reading about the flights of the German gliding pioneer Otto Lilienthal in 1894 renewed the interest of the brothers in flying. The death of Lilienthal in 1896 prompted Wilbur and his brother to learn even more about aeronautics and in 1899 the brothers began to seriously study the 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 on aeronautics. He and his brother embarked upon a scientific approach to flight, testing wing concepts in their homemade wind tunnel before attempting powered flight.
By 1901 Wilbur 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. Four flights were made that day with Wilbur making the longest, flying 852 feet in 59 seconds.
Wilbur 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 make its mark on the world stage. The world will forever remember Wilbur Wright, together with his brother, for their monumental achievement, one of the greatest in human history. After Wilbur’s death, Orville would carry on the Wright legacy. But the dedication and persistence of this quiet, unassuming man forever altered our lives for the better.
For more information on Wilbur and the Wright Brothers, you may want to visit the following websites: