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).