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CONNECTING WITH

THE WRIGHT BROTHERS
b

Thank you for coming, and thank you to the gorgeous new Tiverton Library.

This talk offers some background for David McCullough book The Wright Brothers — some ways to think about it, some ways to connect with it.

The picture we think of when we think of the Wright Brothers - the first successful flight of the first airplane. Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, December 17, 1903. Two men,
their flying machine, nothing else around them. Orville piloting, Wilbur running.

Men, nature, machines - technology out of context

So many of their pictures look the same way - two men, technology, empty landscape.

When we think of their work, it’s something like this - technology. This is a sketch of that first plane. Again, it them, their ideas, no context, no background.

When we think of their work, it’s something like this - technology. This is a sketch of that first plane. Again, it them, their ideas, no context, no background.

As people - rather button-down. Dashing mustache on Orville, to the left. But always the brothers, together - the only famous people I know of on Wikipedia to share a
site.

And finally, the Wright brothers, literally on pedestals. This is at the Hall of Fame for Great Americans, in New York City.

In all of these images, the Wright brothers seem by themselves, not part of a larger world, not connected. One of the things that David McCullough does so well in the
book is to connect them to the rest of the world.

Connecting with
the Wright Brothers

And that’s what I want to talk about today. Connecting them to the rest of the world not only is more truthful - makes them more interesting. It gives us a way to connect
with them. David McCullough does a wonderful job of exploring the world of the Wright Brothers - I want to spend the next half-hour or so exploring that with you, with a
focus on how they connect to the world, and to us today.

Who did they connect with?
How might we connect with them?
How might we connect with the book?

Three parts to the talk today - then, now, and, more practical, about the book.

Who did they
connect with?

Those images of them on their own are not wrong - but don’t show the whole story. In part, they play into a very American notion of independent inventor - of rugged
individualism, self-made man, of technology outside of history. But we can better understand how technology works - how business works - how history works - if we
see its connections.

Family

Let’s start with family — Susan Wright and Rev. Milton Wright— clearly enormously important to Orville and Wilbur — always in touch with them. Earlier biography of
them, by Tom Crouch, was entitled “The Bishop’s Boys—gives a sense of how important.

Mother died while they were in high school - Father, a bishop, was on the road a great deal - but both were very important to the brothers

They had several siblings - the most important to them and their work was their sister Katharine Wright - a very interesting person in her own right - Teacher, went with
them to Europe to help sell their planes. Katharine is far right in the picture, out for a bicycle ride with her friends.

Their house - in Dayton Ohio.

School

Central High School, Dayton, — neither finished high school - Katherine did, and went to college

Central High school students — Orville Wright in there, and so is Paul Lawrence Dunbar, the poet. The family very much part of the community.

Work

Published a newspaper starting in high school - wrote it, printed it - not that uncommon a thing for boys of the day 1890

But most important work — Wrights identified themselves as bicycle manufacturers — it was an essential element of their work on the airplane - learned to sell things,
connected with skilled workers — where they became skilled workers - they designed and built bicycles.

Bicycles rather expensive then - but they were far from rich. The bicycle factory is where their money came from, but as important - the way they thought about airplanes
was based on the bicycles - - balance, design. ($100 then is about $3000 now)

Technical Community

Technical Community

Dayton Public Library

Most importantly - connected with a wide world of researchers working on flight. They weren’t off on their own, starting from scratch — first they went to the Dayton
Public Library.

Smithsonian one of the first places they turned. Wrote this letter — May 30, 1899

Smithsonian one of the first places they turned. Wrote this letter — May 30, 1899

TO THE SMITHSONIAN, 1900

I am about to begin a systematic study of the subject in preparation
for practical work to which I expect to devote what time I can
spare from my regular business. I wish to obtain such papers as the
Smithsonian Institution has published on this subject, and if possible
a list of other works in print in the English language. I am an
enthusiast, but not a crank in the sense that I have some pet
theories as to the proper construction of a flying machine. I wish to
avail myself of all that is already known and then if possible add
my mite to help on the future workers who will attain final success.

got back a reply within days! And wrote back…

June 14, 1899

I have to thank you for your letter of June 2nd in which you kindly enclosed a list of selected books treating on aerial navigation. I also wish to thank you for pamphlets #
903, 93[....], 1134 and 1135 from the Smithsonian reports.

I enclose one dollar currency for which you may send me Experiments in Aerodynamics" Lang[ley].

June 14, 1899

I have to thank you for your letter of June 2nd in which you kindly enclosed a list of selected books treating on aerial navigation. I also wish to thank you for pamphlets #
903, 93[....], 1134 and 1135 from the Smithsonian reports.

I enclose one dollar currency for which you may send me Experiments in Aerodynamics" Lang[ley].

Langley aerodrome

And there was a lot going on - at the Smithsonian, Langley aerodrome — supported by the military

Otto Lilienthal glider

They knew of the others who had done work — Otto Lilienthal — German pioneer of aviation — first person to make well-documented, repeated, successful gliding
flights. Lots of good publicity On August 9, 1896, his glider stalled and he was unable to regain control. — Wright Brothers knew of his work, in some ways took up
where he left off.

To Octave Chanute, 1900
“For some time I have
been afflicted by the
belief that flight is possible
to man…”

Octave Chanute — Civil Engineer, he wrote influential book Progress in Flying Machines in 1894

To Octave Chanute, 1900
“For some time I have
been afflicted by the
belief that flight is possible
to man…”

Octave Chanute — Civil Engineer, he wrote influential book Progress in Flying Machines in 1894

Octave Chanute

Chanute didn't build planes and fly them, but he designed them and encouraged others — Chanute freely shared his knowledge about aviation with anyone who was
interested and expected others to do the same, — Wright brothers less open.

Octave Chanute with Wright Brothers

Chanute far left — went to visit them at Kitty Hawk

Weather Bureau

Correspondence with the Weather Bureau

—part of a large community — federal, academic, international - that made their work possible

Weather Bureau

Correspondence with the Weather Bureau

—part of a large community — federal, academic, international - that made their work possible

Lifesaving crew at Kitty Hawk

Another group they connected with - people who helped out, worked with them - this is the life-saving crew at Kitty Hawk

Essential help for launching their gliders and airplane

They don’t show up in many of the pictures that the Wright Brothers took - here they are with the Wright flyer.

They don’t show up in many of the pictures that the Wright Brothers took - here they are with the Wright flyer.

And here they are in uniform!

Some of the Wright’s mechanics

Many others who worked with them - especially mechanics - they had skills that the brothers didn’t have, for example with gasoline engines. Picture on the right:
mechanic William Conover carrying Orville Wright out to the Hydro on The Miami River, Dayton, Ohio - 1913

Hart O. Berg, the Wrights'
European business agent,
with Orville

They hired many people to work with them - patent attorneys, business agents - right from the start, they saw the airplane as a business venture.

Wright Brothers Flying School,
Montgomery Alabama, 1910

Wright

So - they had many connections - not just two men with a machine in a blank landscape - they were inventors, but also part of a family and a community, businessmen,
publicists

How can we connect with them?

Three ways: family, story of hard work, inspiring story, makers

Learners

Their fifth-grade math book. What did they learn what was useful

independent learners - don’t go to college, went to the library and the Smithsonian instead.

A story of hard work

Amazing story of perseverance - McCullough details how often they try - keep going through crashes, setbacks.

Not just hard work, but careful, detailed, well planned work - notes -

Not just hard work, but careful, detailed, well planned work - notes -

Makers

Today, we’d call them Makers — Orville at metal lathe

Today, we’d call them Makers —

The earliest communication found from either Wilbur or Orville is this postcard, written by nine-year-old Orville to his father, in which he demonstrates a typical Wright
Brothers trait–natural curiosity followed by an experiment.

Today, we’d call them Makers —

The earliest communication found from either Wilbur or Orville is this postcard, written by nine-year-old Orville to his father, in which he demonstrates a typical Wright
Brothers trait–natural curiosity followed by an experiment.

Wind Tunnel (replica)

Hands-on learners — countless hours of testing out wing shapes in a wind tunnel — they build this, make hundreds of models, keep careful notes — not a stroke of
brilliance, but sustained engagement with a problem

Businessmen

The Wright brothers’ contract with the United States government for the purchase of “one heavier than air flying machine.”

Nature

This might seem a surprise after focus on machines and learning and the economy - but both were convinced that the only way to invent a flying machine was by
studying birds — both were committed bird watchers. — James Bell Pettigrew's Animal Locomotion,

Heroes

Finally - we can think about them as heroes — not just American heroes, but international celebrities - left - crowds on their return from Europe - right - poster for their
welcome back to Dayton

Orville, Wilbur and Katharine visited U.S. President William Howard Taft on June 10, 1909, where the brother receive Aero Club of America gold medals.

How might we connect
with the book?

An adventure story

Adventure, perseverance, triumph, society — two brothers from Dayton conquer the world — European trips

A personality study

Adventure, perseverance, triumph, connecting with other people

A personality study

Adventure, perseverance, triumph, connecting with other people

Family Story

A remarkable family story - and not the usual one. Neither Orville nor Wilbur married - but both dedicated to their father, and, for a long time, their sister -

Orville: no time for both an airplane and a wife

A story of
innovation and
the economy

What kind of culture makes a business successful?? A big question today… An open-ended environment – didn’t need to go to the right school, know the right people in some ways like the Silicon Valley of today – a good idea will take you far. How to encourage that? What made this innovation take off? And what held it back?

Patents? Capital? Government skepticism? Competition? Free enterprise?

Patent for Airplane

What was the role of the government? patent system? army purchase?

Research Opportunity

There are amazing resources online for the the Wright Brothers - photographs, archives, pictures - more than any other topic in the history of technology.

http://www.nps.gov/nr/twhp/wwwlps/lessons/109wrightnc/109lrnmore.htm

http://airandspace.si.edu/exhibitions/wright-brothers/online/

https://www.loc.gov/collection/wilbur-and-orville-wright-papers/about-this-collection/

https://www.loc.gov/collection/wilbur-and-orville-wright-papers/about-this-collection/

https://www.thehenryford.org/exhibits/wright/

Research Opportunity

There are amazing resources online for the the Wright Brothers - photographs, archives, pictures - more than any other topic in the history of technology.

http://www.nps.gov/nr/twhp/wwwlps/lessons/109wrightnc/109lrnmore.htm

http://airandspace.si.edu/exhibitions/wright-brothers/online/

https://www.loc.gov/collection/wilbur-and-orville-wright-papers/about-this-collection/

https://www.loc.gov/collection/wilbur-and-orville-wright-papers/about-this-collection/

https://www.thehenryford.org/exhibits/wright/

Research Opportunity

There are amazing resources online for the the Wright Brothers - photographs, archives, pictures - more than any other topic in the history of technology.

http://www.nps.gov/nr/twhp/wwwlps/lessons/109wrightnc/109lrnmore.htm

http://airandspace.si.edu/exhibitions/wright-brothers/online/

https://www.loc.gov/collection/wilbur-and-orville-wright-papers/about-this-collection/

https://www.loc.gov/collection/wilbur-and-orville-wright-papers/about-this-collection/

https://www.thehenryford.org/exhibits/wright/

Research Opportunity

There are amazing resources online for the the Wright Brothers - photographs, archives, pictures - more than any other topic in the history of technology.

http://www.nps.gov/nr/twhp/wwwlps/lessons/109wrightnc/109lrnmore.htm

http://airandspace.si.edu/exhibitions/wright-brothers/online/

https://www.loc.gov/collection/wilbur-and-orville-wright-papers/about-this-collection/

https://www.loc.gov/collection/wilbur-and-orville-wright-papers/about-this-collection/

https://www.thehenryford.org/exhibits/wright/

Research Opportunity

There are amazing resources online for the the Wright Brothers - photographs, archives, pictures - more than any other topic in the history of technology.

http://www.nps.gov/nr/twhp/wwwlps/lessons/109wrightnc/109lrnmore.htm

http://airandspace.si.edu/exhibitions/wright-brothers/online/

https://www.loc.gov/collection/wilbur-and-orville-wright-papers/about-this-collection/

https://www.loc.gov/collection/wilbur-and-orville-wright-papers/about-this-collection/

https://www.thehenryford.org/exhibits/wright/

Visual Study

And great photographs!

Flight!

Finally, let me end with something that the book does a remarkable job of capturing — the wonder of flight, the excitement it brought - how much it meant to people.

The folks who found flying an amazing adventure – came to their demonstrations by the thousands

Germany, 1909

Lindbergh in Paris

TWA terminal

Apollo 11 on the moon

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth

And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth

Of sun-split clouds – and done a hundred things

You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung

High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,

I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung

My eager craft through footless halls of air.

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue

I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace

Where never lark, or even eagle flew -

And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod

The high untrespassed sanctity of space,

Put out my hand and touched the face of God.
—John Gillespie Magee's "High Flight,” 1941

John Gillespie Magee's "High Flight,” 1941