“The Wright Brothers” by two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David McCullough is an inspiring biography of two brothers of exceptional courage and determination. An important aspect of this historical account is the description of Orville and Wilbur Wright as individuals.
Wilbur and Orville grew up in Dayton, Ohio, in a family that did not have many luxuries. But their itinerant minister father, Milton Wright, valued curiosity, hard work and supplied his children with all the books they could read.
Wilbur and Orville loved tinkering with things until they could understand how they worked. They were given a cheap toy helicopter when they were young that flew powered by a rubber band. To the brothers it was a wonderful gift, and together they spent endless hours trying to understand how it could fly.
The brothers were born four years apart but were very close emotionally. Most say Wilbur was clearly a genius. Orville had a mechanical aptitude and ingenuity. The author stresses the mechanical skill and the careful research of the brothers.
Neither went to college. In fact the only one of their family to graduate college was their younger sister, Katharine, who went to Oberlin College. She was also unusually bright and had a significant role in her brothers’ careers. She was the one who comforted and encouraged them when times were bleak. Orville and Wilbur supported themselves by opening a shop that sold, repaired and eventually designed and built bicycles.
Their focus eventually turned to solving problems of flight. With their modest savings from their bicycles they funded their early gliders, biplanes, engines, propellers and test flights.
In fact, when they arrived at Kitty Hawk on the Outer Banks they invented a bicycle that rode well on sand, saving them several hours in getting supplies to their camp. One winter day, Dec. 17, 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright flew the first power-driven, controlled and sustained, heavier-than-air airplane. By today’s standards, the flight was not much – 12 seconds, 120 feet – but that flight changed aviation history.
Mr. McCullough describes in detail how the Wright brothers rose to fame after their first flights. However, it was only after they became famous in France and were offered contracts that America took them seriously.
The author draws heavily on the Wright brothers’ papers in the Library of Congress, diaries, scrapbooks, notebooks and more than 1,000 letters. There are many familiar photographs and many that offer a new look at the Wright brothers. This book is a tribute to American ingenuity, tenacity and genius.