The dramatic story behind the two courageous brothers
story: diane dean
“Your bags should be stowed overhead or under the seat. Please stow your tray tables and fasten your seat belts.” This is how Patricia Crigler, our facilitator and a former writer for US Airways, prepared us for our discussion on flight. “The Wright Brothers” by David McCullough was the selection of the month for the Bookworm Book Club. McCullough researched more than 1,000 scrapbooks, letters, and other resources to put together the story of the brothers.
Wilbur and Orville’s father, a minister who persevered through church difficulties, heavily influenced them with praise and encouragement. Their sister, Katharine, became a mother figure after their mother’s death. She was the brothers’ cheerleader and supporter of their endeavors.
Wilber was focused; he read about others experimenting with flight and digested his research. Orville was shy and good with mechanical things. In 1893, the Wright Cycle Company was founded to supply the growing craze for bicycling. They were not the first to be fascinated by “aerial locomotion” and the study of birds had been a long-time interest in the household. With a supply of books and pamphlets supplied by the Smithsonian, the brothers began their pursuits in aviation.
Many “conquerors of the air” failed and the Washington Post declared, “It is a fact that man can’t fly.” Still “the wright brothers” were not deflated by lack of success.
Orville said, “Learning the secret of flight from a bird is a good deal like learning the secret of magic from a magician.” They began with a glider at Kitty Hawk and returned many times through the years. They partnered with Charlie Taylor, who was a master with engines. The first flight with propellers went 12 feet, the second 120 feet. The Wright Memorial dedicated in 1932 at Kitty Hawk is evidence of their eventual achievement.
After much success in Europe and training aviators in France, Wilbur took his last flight with Orville in 1910 at Huffman Prairie Ohio, before his death in 1912. Katharine devoted much of her time to Oberlin College until her death in 1929. Orville, who died in 1948, lived to see aviation transformed by jet propulsion, the introduction of the rocket, and the breaking of the sound barrier in 1947.
Pat is also a creative storyteller. She ended the morning by enlightening us with a story of Harriet Quimby, America’s first lady of air and the first woman to receive a pilot’s license in the United States.
About the Authors
David McCullough, now 83, graduated with honors from Yale University in 1955. He began his career as a trainee for Sports Illustrated. McCullough’s researching and writing skills have made him one of America’s most revered and honored historians. In 2006, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush. Two of his books, “John Adams” and “Truman,” were awarded the Pulitzer Prize and two others, “The Path Between the Seas” and “Mornings on Horseback,” received the National Book Award. “People often ask me if I’m working on a book. That’s not how I feel. I feel like I work in a book. It’s like putting myself under a spell,” McCullough says. He narrates documentaries for television, bringing history alive. “To me history ought to be a source of pleasure. It isn’t just part of our civic responsibility. To me it’s an enlargement of the experience of being alive, just the way literature or art or music is.”