David McCullough’s The Wright Brothers is a fascinating biography. It tells the story of Wilbur and Orville Wright of Dayton, Ohio and how they were able to fly. They were the owners of Wright Bicycle Company that were used to finance their endeavors. Their initial attempts with gliders led them to Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina where they were first successful. Their first flight was on December 17, 1903 when the Wright Flyer took off with Orville at the controls.
After a number of experiments the Wrights returned to Ohio to work on developing a practical airplane. They continued tests at Huffman Prairie where on September 29, 1905 Orville flew 12 miles in 20 minutes. Wilbur flew 24 miles in 39 minutes. During these rather demanding times Wilbur and Orville were eagerly supported by their father, Bishop Milton Wright, and their sister Katharine.
Initially, they made attempts to interest the war department in their experiments but to no avail. But foreign nations notably France and Germany were eager to have them demonstrate their invention. This led Wilbur to visit France where he flew their plane at Le Mans on August 8, 1908. Flights were later made at Pau, in Germany, and Rome before thousands of adoring spectators.
While in Europe, the war department began to show an interest in the Wright’s plane with all the positive news in the national and international press. Orrville therefore was able to do successful demonstrations at Fort Myer, Virginia on September 17, 1908. In one of these demonstrations Lieutenant Thomas E. Selfridge, who was a passenger with Orville was killed in the plane crash. Orville was badly injured, and took several months to recover.
Flights resumed on Governors Island in New York. Wilbur flew up the Hudson River, and caused a sensation by circling the Statute of Liberty, symbol of the friendship of France and of welcome to America. The Wrights later years were taken up with lawsuits over patent rights that worn out Wilbur, who died of typhoid fever on May 30, 1912. Orville carried on the Wright business ventures with further research. He died of a heart attack on January 30, 1948,
Numerous Wright monuments were erected, one dedicated to Wilbur at Le Mans. The largest Wright memorial is at Kitty Hawk at Kill Devil Hills. There is also a memorial on Wright Brothers Hill overlooking Huffman Prairie, and an aircraft carrier, USS Wright bears their name.