How The Wright Brothers Revolutionized Transportation
People who were born in the middle of the 19th century and lived to see the 20th century, witnessed a technological transformation like no other.
Just ask the Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur. The latter was born in Millville, Indiana in 1867, while Orville was born in Dayton, Ohio in 1871. They grew up in the middle of the Industrial Revolution, one of the most transformational moments in human history. Their father Milton Wright was a traveling preacher who usually brought back small toys for his children to play with.
In 1878, he brought back a small model helicopter for the Orville brothers. The model of this toy helicopter was based on a design by French aeronautical engineer Alphonse Pénaud. When Wilbur and Orville got their hands on this toy, they were instantly enamored with the field of aeronautics and flying. Of the two brothers, Wilbur was an academic standout. He planned to attend Yale University after high school.
However, those plans were scuttled when he was injured during an ice hockey game, when another player accidentally struck him in the face with his hockey stick. While Wilbur recovered from his injuries, he fell into a state of depression. This affected his academic performance significantly as he could not finish his high school studies, thus spoiling his plan to receive a university education. From there, Wilbur stayed at his family’s home.
But that did not stop Wilbur and Orville from pursuing entrepreneurial ventures. In 1889, they started their very own newspaper, the West Side News. On top of that, the Wright brothers loved cycling, which was catching steam nationwide. In 1892, the Wright brothers set up a bicycle shop to fix bikes and sell their own bike design. Even while they set up these ventures, the Wright brothers’ passion for aeronautics did not go away.
They were inspired by the German aviation pioneer Otto Lilienthal, who conducted several successful gliding experiments. Although Lilienthal tragically died in a glider crash in August 1896, the Wright brothers became even more motivated to build upon Lilienthal’s innovations and carry out their own gliding experiments. In fact, their passion was so strong that they ended up moving to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, an area known for its strong winds, to conduct their aeronautical experiments.
At the start of the 20th century, the Wright brothers built their own gliders albeit with mixed results. However, luck was on their side on December 17, 1903 when they carried out the first sustained flight of a powered, heavier-than-air aircraft — the Wright Flyer. Despite carrying out this revolutionary experiment, their aeronautic success was initially met with little fanfare stateside. In turn, Wilbur moved to Europe in 1908. There he found a warmer audience and conducted scores of public flights and gave flights to prominent journalists, officials, and statesmen.
From there, the Wright brothers began to sell their aircraft in Europe, where they built a successful business. With their newfound business success, they went back to the US in 1909 and amassed significant wealth by selling airplanes in the European and American markets.
Wilbur tragically died of complications related to typhoid fever on May 30, 1912. He was largely viewed as the brains behind the Wright company. After Wilbur’s death, Orville assumed the presidency of the Wright Company. However, he ended up selling the company in 1915.
In 1918, Orville made his last flight as a pilot. From there, he retired from business. He still maintained a presence in the aviation field and served on several boards and committees such as the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) and the Aeronautical Chamber of Commerce (ACCA).
After his second heart attack, Orville died on January 30, 1948 at the age of 76. The Wright brothers’ work helped kickstart the use of modern-day aircraft which would later be mass-produced for commercial and military purposes. The brothers’ contribution to transportation cannot be overstated. When both brothers were growing up, America was still a horse-and-buggy nation. When Orville passed away in 1948, the era of supersonic flights was just kicking off.
Talk about a massive technological transformation. That’s the nature of technology. In with the new, and out with the old. It’s the story of human progress. We’re currently living in a digital revolution where many activities are being streamlined like never before. Undoubtedly, this is the greatest time to be alive.
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