Book Review: The Importance Of The Wright Brother

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The book “The Importance Of The Wright Brothers” by Michael J. Martin, is about the lives of Orville and Wilbur Wright and how they grew to fame. The book explores the hardships the brothers had to face in their lives. With the life threatening illnesses jeopardising their school work and jobs, people doubting their skills, and having limited supplies to work with, they had still managed to succeed. This book talks from the very young years of the flying brothers, to the most famous act the brothers are known for at Kitty Hawk beach, and to the tragic deaths of the brothers.

The book starts off with the birth of the oldest of the brothers, Wilbur. Wilbur, or “Will”, was born on April 16, 1867 in Millville, Indiana. Orville, or “Orv”, was born on August 19, 1871 in Dayton, Ohio. Their family had not settled in a definite spot until June of 1884, when the family had moved back to Dayton, with that becoming their permanent home. Although, the two brothers were not the only children in the family. They also had two older brothers, Reuchlin and Lorin, and a younger sister, Katharine. Their father, Milton Wright, was a bishop in the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, after being a former teacher. Their mother was Susan Wright. Milton believed that his kids should be allowed to skip a few days of school.

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Wilbur was quiet and self-confident while Orville was enthusiastic. Orville had collected bones and sold them as fertilizer when he was six. He had also built and sold kites. In school. Wilbur was the fastest runner on the football team and was an excellent ice-skater and a great gymnast. Orville was interested in printing and made the Midget with his friend Ed Sines for his whole eighth grade. Then they started making business cards and envelopes. During the summer Orville worked up to sixty hours at a local printing press. Orville dropped out of school to concentrate on printing his senior year. Wilbur had planned on going to Yale Divinity School. One day Wilbur was hit in the mouth with wooden club which knocked out most his upper teeth. Doctors said his heart had been weakened by the reaction to the accident. He had also developed a stomach disorder. This accident put Wilbur into a deep depression that lasted almost four years. Their mother’s health was becoming terrible as well. After 1887 she rarely was able to get out of bed by herself. Since, Wilbur was the only one home because of his condition, he carried her to and from her bedroom. Susan Wright died on July 4, 1889.

In the spring of 1889, Orville started publishing a four-page weekly newspaper called the West Side News. Wilbur was the paper’s editor. In 1892 bicycling started to become very popular. Orville had raced competitively and won a few races. The brothers decided to open a shop to sell and repair bicycles since their friends asked them to fix their bikes, and since they were also great mechanics. In the spring of 1893, the Wright Cycle Exchange had opened. In winter months the bicycle business did not do well and Wilbur had even considered going back to college. In April 1896, the brothers started selling their own bikes. Orville had come down with typhoid fever in August of that year. By October, his fever of 104 degrees Fahrenheit had broke.

Otto Lilienthal’s death had sparked interest in the brothers about flying with his hang glider, his death being in August of 1896. The boys would read many books the next few years about aeronautics. Wilbur would study birds soaring near a spot outside of Dayton called Pinnacles. The Smithsonian Institution had helped give the Wright brothers information on flying, when Wilbur wrote them a letter on May 30, 1899, asking if they would give them information on flying. Others had tried to solve the mystery that was flying like Clement Ader and Hiram Maxim, but their inventions did not work. During the summer of 1899, the brothers tested theories of flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The brothers choose Kitty Hawk since it met all the requirements they had of where they would test their inventions. There had to be a consistent wind speed of 15 to 16 mph, the place would have to have soft sand for crash landing, and it had to be somewhere with little to no people around. Orville and Wilbur had chosen to test their creations after they were made during their camping at Kitty Hawk, at three large sand dunes right outside of Kitty Hawk. This place was called Kill Devil Hills. When first testing their creation, they would not be on them, but instead they would use them like a kite, with the exception of Wilbur riding in the flying creations a few times. After stopping their testing and headed back home, they later returned to their place for testing on July 7, 1901 after thinking over the winter season of more ideas to improve what they had made. They headed home in August, and while working in the bicycle shop, they were able to make precise and accurate measurements on resistance from building a wind tunnel with a wooden box, small pieces of sheet metals shaped with tin shears, a funnel, and cut-up hack saw blades for parts. The hardest challenge of engineering a plane were the engine and propellers. No one had sold an engine that was as light as the brothers were looking for, and no one would build one for them. So they had built the engine themselves, with the help of their mechanic, Charley Taylor. On February 12, 1903, the engine was finished, but on the second day of testing it, the engine’s crankcase shattered. The engine would not work again until May. When the Wright brothers were tackling the problem of a propeller, they realized that no one knew how to measure the efficiency of any type of propeller. So, they had made five notebooks full of just their calculations on propellers. They eventually came up with a formula that worked so good that their propellers thrust they achieved was within one percent of their calculations.

The brothers had tried to patent their creations, but the U.S. Patent Office had rejected their application since they ruled their machine as “incapable of performing its intended function”(59). It would not be until three years later that they had patent protection in the U.S.

The boys also had some competition in the airplane field. Samuel Langley’s flying machine Great Aerodrome was launched on October 7th 1903 on the Potomac River near Washington. His machine did not get very far. He had done two tests and both had failed and crashed in the water as soon as it took off.

Orville was in the plane, Flyer, when they had made the first successful airplane flight in history on December 17, 1903. It was accomplished for 12 seconds in the air, and flew 120 feet. They flew three more times to make sure it was not a fluke. On the last try, Wilbur was the pilot and had traveled 852 feet while in the air for 59 seconds. Right after, though, a gigantic gust of wind caught the Flyer, making it tumble. It was never flown again for it was so badly damaged.

In May, 1904, the plane Wright Flyer II was assembled completely. Since they were no longer flying at Kitty Hawk, ( for they wanted to test closer to home) their landings were a lot herder on them. On September 20, 1904, they had made the first complete circle in an airplane. As the brothers continued to solve little problems here and there, and made countless more flights with their air time increasing. By October 3, 1906, they had a 26 minute flight time. Two days later they had a 39 minute flight time and covered about 24 miles. The last day the Wright brothers flown at Outer Banks was on May 14, 1908. That day, Wilbur had made the longest flight in North Carolina that had covered five miles. Wilbur and Orville had then retired from flying for two-and-a-half years until a buyer would come forward. While they were trying to get contracts and buyers, the brothers had to split up. Wilbur went to Paris, arriving on May 29, while Orville stayed in Dalton. Wilbur had shown the French their Flyer to show how much better their plane was compared to the french flyer’s planes. Meanwhile back in the U.S., Orville was setting nine world records for flying, including having an altitude of 310 feet. On September 17, 1908, Orville was taking one of his many flights, that time with Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge as his passenger. Unfortunately, they had crashed. Orville had survived with an injured back, a broken left thigh, scalp wounds, and broken ribs. Selfridge, however, did not survive the crash and was the first person to die in a plane crash. While Wilbur was in Paris, Orville had gone to visit him Orville and Wilbur were presented with the Legion of Honor by the French government after Wilbur won the Michelin prize for the longest flight of 1908. When the brothers returned home, ten thousand people were waiting for them. General James Allen had given Orville and Wilbur Congressional Medals of Honor during a two-day celebration on June 17 and 18, 1909. The brothers next challenge to come would be lawsuits and patents. They had fought long and hard for their flying machine to be known as their invention and not someone else’s. This started to take a told on Wilbur’s however. During February and March of 1912, Wilbur would return home exhausted and pale from meetings with lawyers. Then in late April, Wilbur had fallen ill while on a trip to Boston. When he returned to Dayton he had gotten worse. At first their family doctor thought he had malaria, but after spending four days in bed they had realized that he had typhoid fever. On the morning of May 30, 1912, at 3:15 in the morning, Wilbur had passed away peacefully in his sleep.

In the spring of 1925, Orville announced that he would be sending the 1903 Wright plane to the Science Museum of London. Orville had begun preparations to send to the Smithsonian the Flyer when World War II ended, but he did not live to see that day. On January 27, 1948, while trying to fix a doorbell at his home, he had a heart attack. The December of that year,850 guest had attended the presentation of the Wright’s 1903 Flyer to the National Museum at the Smithsonian on the 45th anniversary of their first flight.

This book had covered from the first breath the brothers had taken, their early life as bicycle shop owners, the first test flight they had ever made, to the famous day that the brothers are famously known for,(December 17, 1903). The book also covered the brother’s records they had broken while flying, the thousands of corrections and modifications they made to their creations, and the last breaths they had ever taken. The book shows how much motivation and determination Wilbur and Orville had for making the airplane. This book would be a great resource for anyone who is interested in, or researching the history of flying.      


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