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Explore some of the inventions and inventors that have had the biggest impact on modern life.
American brothers, inventors and aviation pioneers who achieved the first powered, sustained and controlled airplane flight.
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Orville Wright was born on August 19, 1871 in Dayton, Ohio, one of five children of Susan Catherine Koerner, and Milton Wright, a bishop in the Church of the United Brethren in Christ.
Orville's father was a bishop in the Church of the United Brethren in Christ. As a child Orville was a mischievous and curious boy, and his family encouraged his intellectual development. "We were lucky enough to grow up in an environment where there was always much encouragement to children to pursue intellectual interests; to investigate whatever aroused curiosity," Orville wrote in his memoirs.
Milton Wright traveled often for his church work, and in 1878 he brought home a toy helicopter for his boys. Based on an invention by French aeronautical pioneer Alphonse Pénaud, it was made of cork, bamboo and paper, and used a rubber band to twirl its twin blades. Orville and his brother were fascinated by the toy, and a lifelong passion for aeronautics was born.
The Wright family moved to Richmond, Indiana, in 1881. In Richmond, Orville developed a love of kites, and started making his own at home. By 1887 the family was back in Ohio, where Orville enrolled at Dayton Central High School. Never especially studious, Orville was more interested in hobbies outside the classroom. He dropped out in his junior year of high school, and opened a print shop. He had worked in a print shop during the summer, and now designed his own printing press. In 1889 he began publishing the West Side News, a weekly paper for West Dayton. Wilbur was the paper’s editor.
That same year, tragedy struck the Wright family. Orville's mother, Susan Catherine Koerner Wright, died after a long bout of tuberculosis. With her mother gone, Orville's sister Katharine took on the responsibilities of maintaining the household. The bond between Orville, Katharine, and Wilbur was a strong one, and the siblings remained a close trio throughout their lives.
Inventing the Airplane
After their mother's death, Orville and his brother dedicated themselves to another shared interest, bicycles. A new, safer design had set off a bicycle craze across the country. The brothers opened a bicycle shop in 1892, selling and fixing bikes. In 1896 they started manufacturing their own design. Orville invented a self-oiling wheel hub for their popular bikes.
Always curious about aeronautics, Orville and Wilbur followed the latest flying news. When the famous German aviator Otto Lilienthal, whose research they had studied, died in a glider crash, the Wright brothers were convinced that with better designs, human flight was possible. The brothers took their work to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, where heavy winds were more conducive to flying.
Orville and Wilbur started experimenting with wings. They observed that birds angled their wings to balance and control their bodies during flight. Utilizing their concept of "wing warping" and the moveable rudder, the brothers developed a design that had eluded all those who came before them. On December 17, 1903, the Wright brothers succeeded in flying the first free, controlled flight of a power-driven, heavier than air plane. Of four flights they made that day, the longest was 59 seconds, and reached a height of 852 feet.
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Lindbergh Flies Again (PDF)
Students will map the historic flight of Charles Lindbergh and interpret its historical significance.