Wright Brothers

Wright brothers, American airplane inventors and aviation pioneers. Orville Wright 1871–1948, was born in Dayton, Ohio, and Wilbur Wright, 1867–1912, near New Castle, Ind. Their interest in aviation was aroused in the 1890s by the German engineer Otto Lilienthal's glider flights. Both excellent mechanics, the Wrights used the facilities of the bicycle repair shop and factory which they operated (1892–1904) at Dayton for the construction of their early aircraft. By experimenting with movable portions of the wing assembly, rather than shifts in bodily weight, as a means of correcting the aircraft's position in flight they made an important improvement in aircraft design. During this period they drew up valuable tables of wind pressure and drift. Orville designed an engine, which they constructed and attached to their improved glider.

On Dec. 17, 1903, they made near Kitty Hawk, N.C., the first controlled, sustained flights in a power-driven airplane. Of their four flights on that day, the first, made by Orville, lasted 12 sec, and the fourth, by Wilbur, covered 852 ft (259 m) in 59 sec. The brothers continued their experiments at Dayton and built several biplanes. Record-breaking flights in 1908 by Orville in the United States and by Wilbur in France brought them worldwide fame. In 1909 the U.S. government accepted the Wright machine for army use, and the brothers established the Wright Company. The house where Orville was born and the bicycle-shop laboratory have been restored and were moved to Greenfield Village, Mich.

See their papers, ed. by M. W. McFarland (2 vol., 1953); bibliography ed. by A. G. Renstrom (1968); C. P. Graves, The Wright Brothers (1973); P. Degan and L. Wescott, Wind and Sand (1983); F. Howard, Wilbur and Orville (1988); L. E. Tise, Conquering the Sky (2009).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

First Flight: The Wright Brothers and the Invention of the Airplane
T. A. Heppenheimer.
John Wiley & Sons, 2003
American Greats
Robert A. Wilson; Stanley Marcus.
PublicAffairs, 1999
A History of Flying
C. H. Gibbs-Smith.
Frederick A. Praeger, 1954
Librarian’s tip: Includes information on the Wright Brothers in "The Invention of the Aeroplane"
Affidavit in the Case of Orville and Wilbur Wright vs. Glenn H. Curtiss: The Legal Fight after First Flight
Chism, Kahlil G.; Potter, Lee Ann.
Social Education, Vol. 67, No. 6, October 2003
Wrights and Wrongs? David Jordan Recalls the Career of the Man Brazilians Claim to Have Been the True Pioneer of Powered Heavier-Than-Air Flight
Jordan, David.
History Today, Vol. 53, No. 12, December 2003
How the World Learned the Wright Way to Fly
Robinson, Robert G., Jr.
Insight on the News, Vol. 16, No. 22, June 12, 2000
History of American Industrial Science
Courtney Robert Hall.
Library Publishers, 1954
Librarian’s tip: Includes "The Wright Brothers Turn the Trick"
Innovating-by-Doing: Skill Innovation as a Source of Technological Advance
Nilsson, Eric A.
Journal of Economic Issues, Vol. 29, No. 1, March 1995
History of American Technology
John W. Oliver.
Ronald Press, 1956
Librarian’s tip: Includes information on the Wright Brothers in "Transportation and Communication Technology: 1900 to World War I"
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