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Key Takeaways

  • The Wright Brothers revolutionized travel forever with their invention of the airplane.
  • Born in Indiana and Ohio, the brothers were fascinated by flight from a young age.
  • The Wright Brothers had their first flight on December 17, 1903.

As a history enthusiast, I've always been fascinated by the Wright Brothers. Their invention paved the way for modern aviation and changed the world forever.

The Wright Brothers were Orville and Wilbur, two brothers who invented the airplane and revolutionized the world of aviation. Born in Ohio in the mid-1800s, they were bicycle mechanics who applied their knowledge of mechanics and physics to create the first successful powered flight in 1903.

In this article, we'll explore the Wright Brothers’ early life and family, the Wright cycle company that paved the way for their aviation success, their invention and flight, their scientific contributions, recognition and legacy, and their later years and death. Join me on this journey as we delve into the lives of two of the most important inventors in history.

Table of contents


Early Life and Family

Wilbur Wright was born on April 16, 1867, near Millville, Indiana, to Milton Wright and Susan Catherine Koerner Wright. Orville Wright, his younger brother, was born on August 19, 1871, in Dayton, Ohio.

Their father, Milton, was a bishop in the Church of the United Brethren in Christ. He moved his family around frequently, and the Wrights lived in Indiana, Iowa, and Ohio during Wilbur and Orville's childhood. As a result, the brothers attended several different schools and never graduated from high school.

Despite their lack of formal education, the Wright brothers were curious and inventive from a young age. They were fascinated by machines and spent much of their childhood tinkering with bicycles, kites, and other contraptions.

The Wright brothers faced many challenges in their early years. Bishop Wright was frequently absent and financial struggles put a strain on the  Wright family, and Wilbur suffered from a severe case of typhoid fever in 1896 that left him bedridden for several months.

Through it all, however, the Wright brothers remained close and supportive of each other. They continued to pursue their interests in aviation and eventually achieved their dream of building and flying the first successful airplane.

Education and Early Careers

After completing high school, Wilbur briefly attended college, but he dropped out due to illness. Orville did not attend college and instead worked with his brother in their printing business. The brothers had a keen interest in printing and had even built their own printing press at home.

The Wright brothers' interest in aviation began in the late 1890s, when they began studying the work of other aviation pioneers such as Otto Lilienthal and Samuel Langley. They began experimenting with gliders in 1900, and by 1902 they had built a glider that could be controlled in flight.

The Wright brothers' printing business played a crucial role in their aviation experiments. They used their knowledge of printing to design and build lightweight engines and other components for their flying machines.

They also used their printing press to publish articles about their experiments and to communicate with other aviation pioneers around the world.

The Bicycle Business

Wright Bicycle Shop
Wright Bicycle Shop

The Wright brothers were not only pioneers in aviation, but they were also successful bicycle makers. Their bicycle business played a significant role in their aviation career. In this section, we will discuss the history of their bicycle business and its influence on aviation.

Starting the Business

The Wright brothers started their bicycle business in 1892, in Dayton, Ohio. At that time, bicycles were the most popular mode of transportation, and the Wright brothers saw an opportunity to capitalize on this trend. They opened a small bicycle repair shop, which later grew into a full-fledged bicycle shop.

The Wright brothers' bicycle shop was different from other bicycle shops of that time. They not only sold bicycles but also repaired them. They were known for their attention to detail and quality workmanship. They also manufactured their own brand of bicycles, which were known for their durability and reliability.

Influence on Aviation

The Wright brothers' experience in the bicycle business played a critical role in their aviation career. They used their knowledge of bicycles to design and build their first airplane. The Wright brothers understood the importance of balance and control, which they learned from their experience in the bicycle business.

The Wright brothers' bicycle shop also served as a meeting place for aviation enthusiasts. They discussed and shared ideas about aviation, which helped to create a community of aviation enthusiasts. This community later became the foundation of the Wright Company, which was established to manufacture airplanes.

Invention and Flight

Wright Flyer
Wright Flyer

As I researched the Wright brothers, I learned that their invention of the airplane was a pivotal moment in history that changed the world forever. The Wright brothers were fascinated with flight from a young age and spent years studying birds and experimenting with gliders before finally achieving their dream of powered flight.

First Glider

The Wright brothers' first step towards powered flight was the creation of their first glider in 1900. They built the glider based on their research of bird flight and tested it at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

The glider was a success, and the Wright brothers continued to refine their designs over the next few years.

Wright Flyer

In 1903, the Wright brothers achieved their most significant milestone yet with the creation of the Wright Flyer. This airplane was the first to achieve powered, sustained, and controlled flight.

The Wright Flyer was a biplane with a wingspan of 40 feet and weighed 605 pounds. It was powered by a 12 horsepower engine and used wing warping to control its flight.

First Powered Flight

On December 17, 1903, the Wright Brothers made history when they had their official first flight. They flew the Wright Flyer for 12 seconds, covering a distance of 120 feet. This flight was a monumental achievement in aeronautics and marked the invention of the aerial age. The Wright brothers continued to improve their designs and achieved longer and more controlled flights over the next few years.

Scientific Contributions

Throughout their lives, the Wright Brothers were passionate about science and engineering, and their contributions to aviation have been invaluable. In this section, I will discuss who were the Wright Brothers in regards to their scientific contributions in the fields of aerodynamics and control systems.


The Wright Brothers were pioneers in the field of aerodynamics, which is the study of the properties of moving air and the forces acting on objects in motion through air.

They spent countless hours studying the properties of air and how it interacted with various shapes and surfaces. They conducted their own wind tunnel experiments and developed their own theories about lift and drag.

Wing Shape

One of the key contributions the Wright Brothers made to the field of aerodynamics was their discovery of the importance of wing shape. They found that a curved wing, or airfoil, produced more lift than a flat wing.


They also discovered that the size and shape of the wing affected the amount of lift it produced, and that the angle of attack, or the angle at which the wing meets the oncoming air, was crucial for sustained flight.

Control Systems

Another area in which the Wright Brothers made significant contributions was in the development of control systems for aircraft. They recognized that in order to achieve sustained flight, an aircraft needed to be able to control its pitch, roll, and yaw.

Wing Warping

To achieve this, the Wright Brothers developed a system of wing warping, which allowed them to control the roll of the aircraft. By twisting the wings in opposite directions, they could control the amount of lift produced by each wing and thus control the roll of the aircraft.

Movable Rudders

They also developed a system of movable rudders, which allowed them to control the yaw of the aircraft. By deflecting the rudder to one side or the other, they could control the direction in which the aircraft was flying.

Recognition and Legacy

The Wright Brothers were aviation pioneers who revolutionized the world with their invention of the first practical airplane. Their contributions to aviation have been recognized and celebrated in various ways.

Smithsonian Controversy

In 1942, the Smithsonian Institution displayed the Wright Flyer in its National Air and Space Museum. However, the display included a caption that suggested that Samuel Langley's failed attempts at flight were more significant than the Wright Brothers' achievements.

This sparked a controversy, and Orville Wright wrote a letter to the Smithsonian expressing his disappointment. The dispute continued for several years until the Smithsonian finally revised the display in 1976 to give the Wright Brothers their rightful place in history.

Influence on Modern Aviation

The Wright Brothers' invention of the airplane paved the way for modern aviation. Their success inspired others to pursue a career in aviation, and their techniques and principles are still used in aircraft design today.

NASA has recognized the Wright Brothers' contributions to aviation and has named several facilities after them, including the Neil A. Armstrong Flight Research Center and the Wright Brothers Wind Tunnel.

In conclusion, the Wright Brothers' legacy continues to inspire and influence modern aviation. Their achievements have been recognized by the Smithsonian Institution and NASA, and their impact on the world of aviation cannot be overstated.

Later Years and Death


After their historic flights at Kitty Hawk, the Wright brothers continued to develop their aviation technology. They established the Wright Company in 1909, which produced airplanes for the US Army and Navy. However, the company faced financial troubles and was eventually sold in 1915.

Wilbur Wright died in 1912 because of Typhoid. Orville Wright continued to work in aviation, serving as a consultant for the US Army and Navy during World War I. He also founded the Wright Aeronautical Corporation in 1919, which produced airplane engines.

Death and Posthumous Recognition

Orville Wright died 1948 and was 76 years old. He received numerous honors and awards during his lifetime, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1946.

Both Wilbur and Orville Wright are remembered as successful aviation pioneers who changed the course of history. Their dedication and hard work paved the way for modern aviation.