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Wright Brothers Books & History

Updated on January 19, 2013

Wright Brothers, History, Myth and Legend of a remarkable duo at the beginning of flight

Contrary to popular belief, Orville (1871-1948) and Wilbur Wright (1867-1912) were not the first men to build an aircraft that could fly . Otto Lilienthal (1848-96) in Germany, for example, had already made hundreds of flights in his gliders. The Wright brothers' place in history is assured because their airplane was the first powered, controllable heavier-than-air craft to fly .

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Fathers of Flight

Orville and Wilbur Wright, inventors of the powered aeroplane, were born in Dayton, Ohio.

Wilbur (1867-1912) and his brother, Orville (1871-1948), were influenced by the work and death of Lilienthal.

They made an exhaustive study of previous work in aviation, and in 1900 made the first of their three gliders. After perfecting their patented means of control (which consisted of warping the wing-tips in conjunction with a rear rudder, as well as using a front elevator for climb and dive) they designed and built their first powered aeroplane, including the engine, in 1903, and on 17 December, near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, made the world's first powered, sustained, and controlled flights, Orville making the first and third flights of four, Wilbur the others.

Through a series of almost unbelievable circumstances their work for long remained unknown, despite flights of over 30 min in their Flyer No.3 in 1905.

They did not fly again until 1908, when Wilbur flew in public for the first time in Europe and Orville in the USA.

Their known work on gliders had already been the largest factor in developing European aeroplanes, and when they emerged in 1908 they further revolutionized aviation. They thereafter constructed many excellent aircraft.

Their first Flyer (now called the Kitty Hawk) was the subject of a bitter quarrel in the USA, and was sent to England, where it was on loan to the Science Museum, London, from 1928 to 1948. It is now in the National Air Museum, Washington.

Timeline - From

  • 1867 - Wilbur Wright is born near Millville, Indiana.
  • 1871 - Orville Wright is born in Dayton, Ohio.
  • 1878 - Wright brothers build their first aircraft, a rubber-band powered helicopter they call a "bat". (A. A. Pope manufactures the first bicycles in America).
  • 1885 - A sports injury leads to health problems that prevent Wilbur from attending college.
  • 1886 - Orville starts a printing business while he is still in high school.
  • 1889 - Orville publishes a newspaper, the "West Side News," and Wilbur joins him as editor. The newspaper business does not profit and the Wrights return to printing to make a living. (The Eiffel Tower is built in Paris).
  • 1893 - The Wright brothers begin to sell and repair bicycles. (Karl Benz and Henry Ford build their first automobiles).
  • 1895 - The Wrights gear up to manufacture their own bicycles, the "St. Clair" and the "Van Cleve." The bike business is profitable. (Marconi transmits the first radio signals.).
  • 1896 - The Wrights take an interest in the "flying problem" after hearing of the flight of Samuel Langley's unmanned "Aerodrome" and the death of glider pilot Otto Lilienthal. (The first modern Olympics are held in Athens, Greece.).
  • 1899 - Wilbur devises a revolutionary control system for aircraft and builds a kite to test it.
  • 1900 to 1902 - The Wright brothers fly gliders at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, refining their control system. At home in Dayton, Ohio, they build a wind tunnel and conduct research on wing shapes. (1901 The first successful submarine is launched in Britain).
  • 1903 - The Wright brothers make the first controlled, sustained powered flight at Kitty Hawk. Samuel Langley of the Smithsonian Institution also tries to fly a manned version of his Aerodrome and fails. (The first true film, The Great Train Robbery, premiers. It is 12 minutes long.).
  • 1904 to 1905 - The Wrights develop a practical airplane at Huffman Prairie near Dayton, Ohio. (1905 -- Albert Einstein publishes the Special Theory of Relativity and the Niagra Movement -- later to become the NAACP -- is founded.).
  • 1906 -- The U.S. Patent Office grants a patent to the Wright Brothers on their airplane control system.
  • 1908 - The Wright brothers demonstrate a two-passenger airplane in Europe and America. (The Ford Motor Company produces the first "Model T" automobile.).
  • 1909 - The Wrights begin to manufacture and sell airplanes. They launch patent suits against Glenn Curtiss and other airplane builders who are using their control system without permission. (Leo Baekeland develops "Bakelight," the first widely-used plastic, and Ernest Rutheford discovers the structure of the atom).
  • 1912 - Wilbur Wright dies of typhoid in Dayton, Ohio. (1912 -- The passenger ship Titanic sinks.).
  • 1914 -- U.S. courts decide in favors of the Wrights in their suits against Curtiss and others, and the' 1906 patent becomes the "grandfather" patent of the airplane. The Smithsonian Institution claims that Langley's Aerodrome was the first manned aircraft "capable of flight" and begins a bitter disagreement with Orville Wright. (1914 to 1918 -- World War I rages in Europe. 1914 -- The Panama Canal opens and Robert Goddard begins his first rocketry experiments).
  • 1915 - Orville Wright sells his airplane- company for $1.5 million.
  • 1916 -- Jazz emerges a distinct form of American music.
  • 1917 -- The October Revolution makes Russia the first socialist state.
  • 1919 -- Women get the right to vote in the United States.
  • 1920 -- Orville is appointed to the National Advisory Council on Aeronautics (NACA, the forerunner of NASA). He remains an active participant for the rest of his life.
  • 1922 -- Orville develops the split flap, which is used to slow airplanes in a steep dive. It is his last aeronautical invention.
  • 1925 -- John L. Baird transmits the first television images.
  • 1926 -- Orville Wright sends the 1903 Flyer 1 to an English museum to call public attention to the wrong he feels is being done to his name by the Smithsonian.
  • 1927 -- Charles Lindbergh flies non-stop from New York to Paris in The Spirit of St. Louis.
  • 1929 -- The stock market plunges, starting the "Great Depression," a worldwide economic crisis.
  • 1930 -- Astronomer C. W. Tombaugh discovers the planet Pluto.
  • 1932 - The Wright Brothers Monument at Kitty Hawk is dedicated.
  • 1933 -- Adolph Hitler becomes Chancellor of Germany.
  • 1937 -- Amelia Earhart is lost while attempting to become the first woman to fly around the world.
  • 1938 - The Wright Bicycle Shop and Wright home are opened to the public at Henry Ford Museum/Greenfield Village.
  • 1940 to 1945 -- World War 2 rages in Europe, North Africa, and the Pacific Ocean.
  • 1942 -- The first electronic computer is built in the U.S.
  • 1943 -- The Smithsonian Institution finally apologizes to Orville and recognizes the Wright Brothers as the first to make a controlled, sustained powered flight. Orville recalls the Flyer 1 from England, but it can't be shipped home until World War 2 ends.
  • 1945 -- First atomic bomb is detonated at Alamogordo, NM.
  • 1947 -- Chuck Yeager breaks the sound barrier in the Bell X-1.
  • 1948 - Orville Wright dies of a heart attack in Dayton, Ohio and the Wright brothers' first powered airplane, the 1903 Flyer 1, is enshrined at the Smithsonian Institution.

Photographic History of Flight

A Beautifull book showing everything about the early days of flight.

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    • favored profile image

      Fay Favored 

      5 years ago from USA

      I didn't know about Otto Lilienthal and his gliders. Appreciate the information.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Is there any more info on the wright brothers in 1885


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