The whole world now knows that Wilbur and Orville Wright, even as young boys dreamed of flying. They felt that man, like the birds, could
also leave the ground and fly up into the sky. The only thing that was lacking was a machine with which to do it. There were others who looked
into space and thought about flying. But in those days they were scoffed at as visionaries. Yet, men, including the Wright brothers, continued to
think and try. In 1836 Samuel Langley, who was an astronomer and physicist, had experimented with a desigh for an airplane. He invented a
powerdriven model that flew. But his full-sized machine crashed and people said they had never expected it to work.
People seemed satisfied with bicycles for transportation. The bicycle, though limited in speed, gave people a way of traveling. Factory workers
went to work on their bicycles. City residents bicycled out to the country for fresher air. Interestingly, because people could move about more
freely, the bicycle had an affect on the widespread use of the Kodak camera and was also the inspiration for building better roads. In Ohio, where
manufacturing cities were growing rapidly, the Wright brothers owned a bicycle repai shop and a small plant for manufacturing bicycles. By
1895 a half million bicycles were in use, so manufacturing bicycles had become good business, even though they sold for about a hundred dollars
each. The front high-wheeled "bone-shaker" type of bicycle disappeared. Inventors had developed air-filled tires, the chain and sprocket drive,
the lowered seat and wheels that were uniform in size.
Many changes were taking place in Americ as the century closed. One of these changes concerned the automobile. There was talk of converting
the bicycle shops to automobile shops, but the Wright brothers were not interested in automobiles. They were looking ahead on building a
machine that could fly. In Germany, Otto Lilienthal, a pioneer in gliders, had lost his life in glider experiments. The Wright brothers set out
to prove that it was possible to build a flyuing machine that would be safe. They worked very cautiously, in order to avoid accidents.
When the news leaked out that they were working on gliders, their friends and the farmers in the area laughed at them. They said there was enough
to worry about over those new-fangled gasoline "buggies" people were talking about. They said that those foul smelling machines might even go
tearing around the countryside at twenty-five miles an hour, scaring horses, cattle and people. The Wrights decided to do their testing in secret.
They found the ideal spot. It was a place called Kitty Hawk, on the lonely coast of Nort-Caroline. The hills from which the glider could be
launched had soft sand at their base. The Kitty Hawk location was used for testing the third glider they built. To balance it once it got into the
air, Orville lay flat on the wing. Wilbur walked alonside to steady it. Their first gliders had been difficult to keep right side up. But the third glider
rose into the air ten feet and remained there for only ten seconds and then bumped down on the sand. Orville was the first American to rise in
a glider. They were now ready to try an engine, which they assembled themselves.
The two brothers worked so closely together, that it is almost implssible to say which brother made a particular contribution. They shared all
their experiments. Another thing they had in common was their regret that they had refused to go to college, even though their two older
brothers and a sister were college graduates. Orville often said that they had to learn scientific methods by teaching themselves. They studied
eveything they could find on aerodynamics and followed closely Langley's book on the subject. December 17, 1903 was the most important day
of their lives. This was the day, they took their plane to Kitty Hawk for its trial, with the home-made engine. The flying machine, as primitive as
a box kite, slowly rose into the air. It flew only two hundred and sixty yards, but it flew. Their flying machine had many defects that they had to
be correct before they could hope to gain distance. The brothers took the machine back with them to Dayton. They had proven that a machine
could be made to fly.
To obtain money for further experiments, they sold propery in Iowa which they had inherit from their father. To the consternation of the local farmers,
they now did their testing in Dayton. "Those crazy Wright brothers" was the local opinion. The national papers, however, were beginning to print
stories about the Wright brothers and their experiments. They even began to say that their work was "altering civilization". It took five years
for the idea of the airplane to be accepted. Then, of course, as ofter happens, people said they "had know all along those boys were smart".
By 1905 the Wright brothers had devised a motor that would fly twenty-four miles at the rate of thirty-five miles an hour. Not until they were
able to do this did they give out newspper accounts of their experiments.
Three years later Wilbutr took the machine to France. The French promptly made fun of him and his home-made looking machine. But a few
days later, Wilbur made a flight of fifty-two miles in ninety-two minutes. The French looked on in silent wonder. Soon afterwards the French
government gave an order for thirty of the machines. Back home, Orville was making flights at Fort Myer, Virginia, and was occasionally
taking a passenger with him. When he flew from Fort Myer to Kitty Hawk and back, Orville knew that he and his brother had begun the
air age. The first planes were lightweight and flimsy. Later, a discorery of Charles Martin Hall, a student at Oberlin College, gave alluminum to
the airplane industry. Hall's discovered that aluminum could be extracted from bauxite, its ore, opened the way to one of the greatest industries
in North-America and indeed, in the world.
So little did Americans know about Wilbur's success in France, that they were skeptical of the invention until Orville flew several army officers
who became enthusiastic. Unfortunately, while the congress was considering purchasing a plane for $25,000, Orville and a passenger,
Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge, crashed. Selfridge was killed and Orville was injured. The Congress decided not to spend the $25,000 for a
Word about the activities of the brothers finally reached president Theodore Roosevelt, who decided to allocate $25,000 from an emergency
appropriation given him during the spanish American war that he could spend without asking congress. In 1909 the first airplane was delivered
to the army and Orville left for Germany to give demonstration flights. Basically the Wright brother's patent position was secure, although they
had to fight occasional claims of patent infrigements and improvements. Wilbur died of a typhoid infection in 1912. A short time later, the
Curtiss company bought Wright out. Orville spent the rest of his life experimenting with aeronautical improvements.