In 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright successfully flew the first powered aircraft and changed the course of history. David McCullough’s book grants us an unexpectedly riveting glimpse into the lives of these two men and their monumental achievements.
Wilbur and Orville Wright were born in 1867 and 1871, respectively, in the midwestern United States. Their parents eventually settled in Dayton, Ohio, where the brothers lived for the remainder of their lives. In 1899, after years of study, observation and careful thought, the brothers began building their first aircraft — an unpowered, unmanned glider. The success of this glider let to the construction of a series of manned gliders, which the brothers tested at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Once they established that their gliders had the necessary aerodynamic qualities needed for flight, they began building engines and propellers to attach to the gliders. They finally achieved a powered manned flight in 1903.
Although they had created an airplane and successfully demonstrated its viability before several audiences, very few seemed to believe them. Newspapers took little notice, and those few who heard of the Wright brothers were largely skeptical and prone to dismiss their results as exaggeration. After patenting their aircraft, the Wright brothers tried to sell it. McCullough’s account of how the brothers tried (twice!) to sell it to the U.S. military, then to the British and the French, was fascinating. In 1908, after years of negotiations, the brothers succeeded in signing contracts with both the French and the U.S. military, contingent upon demonstration of their aircraft. Wilbur went to France and Orville to Washington for the required flights.
Press, public and officials were still skeptical on both sides of the Atlantic, but on Aug. 8, 1908, Wilbur laid all French doubts to rest, and on Sept. 3, Orville took his turn wowing the crowd in Washington, D.C. What followed was a funny transcontinental display of sibling rivalry as the two brothers took turns breaking each other’s world records set in distance, speed and height.
Unfortunately, on Sept. 17, 1908, Orville had a bad crash. He survived but ended up with a broken hip, broken leg and four fractured ribs. He spent several months in recovery, but recover he did, and the two went on to reap the long-delayed reward for their hard work and perseverance. Orville and their sister Katharine traveled to Europe to be with Wilbur. where the three of them were honored and feted for quite some time. The celebrations continued upon their return home to the United States, and the book ends with a description of their homecoming celebration in Dayton and the successes they enjoyed in their later years.
I really enjoyed this book. McCullough manages to not only give us the historic facts of Orville and Wilbur Wright’s achievements, but a sense of their lives and personalities. I grew to like and admire both of the brothers and I was inspired by their humor, perseverance and modesty. I highly recommend this book!
Rated: None. I noted a single profanity. There was no sex or violence in this book.