Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

What the Wright Brothers Can Teach Us about the Formula for American Success

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

What the Wright Brothers Can Teach Us about the Formula for American Success

Article excerpt

I was not surprised to see historian David McCullough's latest book rocket to the top position on The New York Times Best Sellers list.

Not only is "The Wright Brothers" beautifully written in McCullough's familiar narrative style, it reminds Americans of what we once honored and promoted: vision, initiative, talent, genius, entrepreneurship, faith and even clean living.

Orville and Wilbur Wright took many personal and financial risks. They paid for their experiments with a "flying machine" out of the small profits from their bicycle shop in Dayton, Ohio. Incredibly, after the first flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C., in 1903, which lasted just 12 seconds, and subsequent longer flights in the next two years -- many of which were photographed -- skeptical newspapers and especially the U.S. government would not believe that humans could fly.

The Wrights repeatedly tried to interest the government in their invention, but each time they were rejected. Several appeals to the Board of Ordnance and Fortification were turned down. In one letter the Wrights said they "(did not want) to take this invention abroad unless we find it necessary to do so."

They found it necessary, prompting the French-born American civil engineer, Octave Chanute, to say about the board, "Those fellows are a bunch of a---s."

When it comes to government bureaucracy, little has changed.

The French were eager to believe men could fly, despite numerous failed tests by some of their own.

The French government paid for Wilbur Wright to go to Paris, where he was feted and encouraged to show what he and his brother had invented. It was only after their "triumph at LeMans" in 1908, which awakened the French and subsequently American media to what these men had achieved, that the U.S. government came to believe people could fly and the War Department agreed to pay $25,000 for one "heavier-than-air flying machine. …

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