“When you two say you’re going to do something, you do it.” –Kate Wright to Wilbur and Orville
Two brothers from the 19th century, Wilbur and Orville Wright (well known as the Wright Brothers), were nothing short of scientists. At the young age of 11 and 7, respectively, they were already on their way to being scientists, as they were observant, eager, careful, and dedicated to what they did. These qualities only grew as they got older. By the time they were 21 and 17, they owned a paper, making a steady 15 dollars a week (a very tidy sum back then). Not soon after, they started a bicycle company where they sold bicycles that were better than the typical bicycle and half the price, making hundreds and thousands of dollars in a few years. Then, a few years later, they began the project that they always dreamed of: building a flying machine.
The Wright Brothers knew all about cause-effect relationships, something science is based on. They knew that if they drew a diagram of their inventions right, their inventions would turn out right. They knew if they flattened themselves down while sledding or biking there would be less wind resistance, and they’d go faster. They learned that if equipment isn’t well-maintained and checked-up upon, the equipment may break or fail. They knew that being persistent and thinking things through would result in success in their projects.
When Wilbur was 11 and Orville was 7, they wanted a sled like the rest of the boys in their town. Since their dad wasn’t home often (he was a traveling minister), their mother helped them build it. She taught them to build it differently than the other sleds. It was closer to the ground, much longer, and much narrower. She told them why they were to do this, so they knew how it benefited their sled and weren’t just blindly doing what they were told. It was closer to the ground and narrower so there would be less wind resistance. The less wind resistance, the faster the sled would go. She made it longer, so they could both fit on the sled and their sister, Kate, could sometimes ride with them. She also showed them that if they sketched out their sled on paper and made sure everything was right, their sled would be right when they built it. The brothers even added a rudder so they could steer the sled.
Their mother was a very important person in their life. All of these things that their mother taught them set them up for being scientists and inventors. They used what she taught them in everything they built. Whenever they built something, they first drew it on paper. This clarified in their mind what they wanted to build and helped them visualize their design. They could change whatever they wanted on paper without having to start all over again with wood. This helped them when they built kites in their teens, then building kites set them up for building airplanes.
The brothers built and repaired bikes for many years. They learned a very valuable lesson through bikes. Orville and Wilbur put together a bike race so they could advertise their homemade bikes. Their plan was to win the race, proving that their bikes were much better than the other boys’. Orville trained long and hard. He biked every day to build up his strength. He even cut the handlebars to make them shorter, so he could lean over them, so there would be less wind resistance. However, during the race, a worn-out tire on his bike blew out. This taught them to check their equipment and always make sure it was in prime condition before using it.
Both Wilbur and Orville got horribly sick at one point in their lives. Wilbur got hit in the mouth by a hockey stick while playing hockey, and his mouth got infected. Then, years later, Orville got Typhoid Fever. Although being sick was horrible, it gave the brothers time to think about what they wanted to get out of life and how much they wanted to invent things. They read a lot about various topics they were interested in, such as flight, physics, and engineering. Even the worst of events could benefit the Wright Brothers, as they always made the most of things.
Wilbur and Orville were always interested in trying something new. They didn’t want to spend all their time on only one project. After a few years of tending to the bike shop, they became unsatisfied. They wanted to keep building and inventing, but were only happy when they were struggling, or when they had to figure something out. They didn’t like things easy and just handed to them on a silver platter. When they finished a project, they immediately started working on another one.
Of course, the Wright Brothers were best known for their work on the invention of the airplane. When they were little, they owned a toy helicopter. They were fascinated at how it went straight up. They also spent a long time learning how to build kites. So by the time they were ready to start building airplanes, they had an understanding of the wind. They learned everything they could about planes and gliders and what had already been tried by other people and what had succeeded. Once they learned everything they could, they drew out a glider, built it, and went to a hilly place in North Carolina called “Kitty Hawk” where they started experimenting with their glider. They found that the glider could lift off the ground, but they couldn’t control it like they wanted to. Their glider was at the mercy of the wind. Will and Orv used observation and induction to see what was wrong and how they could fix it. They took tons of notes and eventually realized that if they had a rudder, like the one they used on their sled so many years ago, they could control the glider like how they controlled their sled. Although it wasn’t perfect, the rudder would make the glider go up and down. The brothers studied how birds flew and they wrote to scientists that had tried to fly, too. They added a vertical and horizontal rudder to the back of the glider, which made it steadier, and they made the wings longer and bigger. After more experiments, they decided to add an engine to power it. They had to build their own engine because nobody else was selling what they wanted: a powerful, light engine. With time, they learned how to steer and could stay up as long as they had gas to power their engine. The Wright Brothers had created the airplane. Theodore Roosevelt, the president at the time, asked to see it. Of course, he was amazed, and wanted them to build more.
Everything that happened to Wilbur and Orville Wright set them up for inventing the airplane, from building a sled, to participating in a bike race, to getting ill, to flying a kite. The Wright Brothers were the ones to invent the airplane because they were curious, smart, careful, and persevering.
Review by Kira H, 13 year old student
The Wright Brothers: Pioneers of American Aviation by Quentin Reynolds