The Wright Company: From Invention to Industry

By de Syon, Guillaume | The Historian, Fall 2016 | Go to article overview

The Wright Company: From Invention to Industry


de Syon, Guillaume, The Historian


The Wright Company: From Invention to Industry. By Edward J. Roach. (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2014. Pp. xv, 218. $22.95.)

This well-documented history of the Wright brothers' aviation business surveys how a promising pioneer operation ended up floundering. In so doing, the author contributes both to the historiography of the Wright brothers and to a better understanding of socioeconomic factors affecting early aeronautics as a whole.

A defining theme of the book's eight chapters involves the conservatism of the Wrights, which became exacerbated following Wilbur's death from typhoid fever in 1912. Like many aviation pioneers, neither brother had graduated high school, and both were self-taught in their approach to business (they managed a bicycle and a print shop). Though the experience served them well in the early stages of their experimentation process, it did not do so when dealing at the national and international levels or in convincing the public of the airplane's value. In hindsight, the company clearly misjudged the importance of marketing its aircraft, disbanding after 1911 its exhibition department that sent pilots to air meets. Instead, advertisements in newspapers offered machines for sale, and Edward J. Roach's chapter on the subject shows clearly the haphazard nature of selling a means of locomotion that was new, untrusted, and subject to the vagaries of new market entrants.

That the Wright business survived longer than expected happened thanks to the patents the company had fought to protect. As Roach explains, the paradox of this legal success caused an innovation failure at the Wright Company while encouraging alternative experimentation among its competitors, notably Glenn Curtiss. …

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