They did not invent or even perfect the automobile because Wilbur Wright “could not imagine how any contrivance that made such a racket and had so many things constantly going wrong with it could ever have a future.” Instead, they invented the airplane. On the face of it, that’s impossible.
So many rich, well-connected men were trying to solve the problem of flight that the idea of two brothers who owned a bicycle shop doing it, seems preposterous. But Wilbur and Orville Wright had advantages those other would-be airplane inventors did not: patience—these boys could stare and document how the birds flew for hours on end; immaculate attention to detail—they built and rebuilt their planes themselves; a religious dedication to hard work; and a determination to fly. And indeed, one of the things the Wright brothers realized fairly quickly is that to learn to fly they had to spend time in the air. Theory worked on paper but you could never really test an airplane until you tried it in the air. Again and again and again.
And there they too had an advantage. Because they were unknowns—two guys from Dayton, Ohio with a bicycle shop, albeit a very good one—no-one expected them to succeed. So they could practice and try out their airplanes away from cameras’ prying eyes. The pressure to succeed was not on them.
Of course that turned out to be a double-edged sword when success was indeed theirs. No-one would believe it. The US government (to whom they tried selling their invention twice) twice sent them a standard letter. Their hometown newspaper had no idea what they were working on and would not believe it for a long time. It was the French who first realized that the Wrights really had mastered the air. And it was only after the Wrights had successfully demonstrated their Flyer to the French (and concluded a profitable deal with the government of France) that the US became interested.
These and many personal little details about the Wrights are all packed into this book. A book that feels more like a novel, frankly than a biography of two incredible men living in an incredible time. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
I highly recommend it.
The Wright Brothers
Product Name: The Wright Brothers by David McCullough