Wilber and Orville Wright are brothers and were born in Indiana and Ohio, respectively. As children, the boys were always very imaginative and interested in science. This was encouraged by their parents and the brothers have been known to say that if they did not have that encouragement, they would never have flown. Neither brother attended college. Wilbur was injured in a hockey accident. It took Wilbur three years to recover from his injuries. He then spent a couple of years caring for his ailing mother before she died from tuberculosis. Orville had been working at print shops during this time. Once Wilbur was available, they both opened their own printing shop. They actually designed and built their own presses and soon other printers were purchasing presses from the brothers.
In 1892, the Wright brothers, in addition to the printing business, opened a bicycle shop. They designed, built, and repaired bicycles. The brother’s mechanical skills were put to good use, as they invented the self-oiling bicycle wheel and developed automatic machines to help build the bikes. Eventually, between the print and bicycle business, they made enough money to begin funding their flying machines.
The Wright Brothers were not the first to try and create a way for man to fly, but they were the ones to make it viable. They were fascinated with a German glider inventor by the name of Otto Lilienthal. When he died in a glider crash, it spurred the brothers into action. Up until then, people trying to develop flying machines wanted the machine to have most of the control. The Wright Brothers chose to keep the control with the operator of the machine. They created flaps on the wings that the pilot could use to control the direction and altitude of the plane. To test their theory, they used kites. Once they had a better idea of how to get the flaps to work, they began to design a full-scale glider.
Most of the time, the brothers flew this biplane glider as a kite. This was so they could study lift and gather other data so they could improve it. They realized that they needed to be in a place that had more wind than Dayton, Ohio. They ended up in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina due to the steady winds, numerous dunes to take off from, and lots of sand for soft landings. Like most inventors, they had several failures. They actually built a wind tunnel so they could test out their ideas. After a year of testing, they began building their third glider. The first successful test of this glider was in 1902. They were able to remain airborne for twenty-six seconds! They had installed a rudder on this model which gave them much more control.
Now it was time to build a powered flying machine. It took them a year to build and perfect the engine. On December 17, 1903, Orville piloted the first flight, flying for twelve seconds. Wilbur flew the second flight and had similar results. The final flight of that day, Wilbur flew for almost one minute. The flights were witnessed by some of the locals of Kitty Hawk. This was the very first time a machine had any sustained flight controlled by the pilot.
Over the next several years, the brothers worked to get their ideas patented. They established the Wright Company in Dayton, Ohio. The first contract to build airplanes was with the United States Army. They also went into business with a French company. They created a pilot training school where they trained the first ever United States military pilots. In 1912, Wilbur passed away from typhoid fever. Orville then took over the Wright Company. Orville went on to work with the US Army as an engineering consultant during WWI. He received many honorary degrees and was a sought after speaker. He passed away from a heart attack in 1948.