The Wright Brothers: Did You Know…?


Wilbur and Orville Wright are famously known for their pioneer work with aviation at the turn of the twentieth century. On December 17, 1903, they made the first flight in a heavier-than-air plane at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

But did you know . . .

Wilbur was born near Millville, Indiana in 1867 and Orville was born about four years later in Dayton, Ohio. They had two older siblings and three younger ones. The youngest two, twins, died in infancy.

Their paternal ancestor, Samuel Wright, settled in Massachusetts in 1636.


Both brothers remained bachelors throughout their lives.

When Wilbur was about 18 years old, his front teeth were knocked out while playing ice hockey with friends. He had planned to attend Yale University but stayed home instead and cared for his mother who had tuberculosis.

Orville dropped out of high school to start a printing business. Later Wilbur joined him, and they published The West Side News, a weekly newspaper.

A few years later, the Wright brothers opened a bicycle repair shop, later known as the Wright Cycle Company, and manufactured their own brand of bicycle.

Kitty Hawk Flyer
Kitty Hawk Flyer

Lawsuits over patents and licensing took their toll on Wilbur’s health. He died when he was only 45 of typhoid fever in 1912. Innovation also took a backseat to their legal issues–when the U.S. entered WWI, they used French planes instead of American planes.

Because of a feud with the Smithsonian, who claimed the Aerodrome (invented by Glenn Curtis) was the first heavier-than-air aircraft, Orville lent the restored 1903 Kitty Hawk Flyer to the London Science Museum in 1928.

“On November 23, 1948, the executors of Orville’s estate signed an agreement for the Smithsonian to purchase the Flyer for one dollar. At the insistence of the executors, the agreement also included strict conditions for display of the airplane” (“Wright Brothers“).

Orville marched with his father, Milton, and his sister, Katharine, in a Dayton Woman’s Suffrage Parade.

Orville died of a heart attack in 1948. He was 76 years old. Both he and Wilber were buried in the family plot at Woodland Cemetery in Dayton.

05 16 state quarters collageBoth Ohio and North Carolina honor the Wright Brothers.  Ohio’s license plate slogan, “Birthplace of Aviation Pioneers,” recognizes their contribution to aviation and also honors Ohio natives and astronauts John Glenn and Neil Armstrong. North Carolina’s license plate slogan is “First in Flight.”

Both the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park and North Carolina’s Wright Brothers National Memorial honor the brothers’ contributions. However, their final bicycle shop and home have been moved from Dayton to Dearborn, Michigan.

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