Known as the pioneers of modern flight, the Wright Brothers were inventors from a young age. In fact, their road to being the first to launch a controlled, engine-powered airplane began with a toy from their dad. Read on for 11 facts you might not already know about the world’s most famous flying brothers.
photo of Orville (R) and Wilbur (L) Wright from Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons
1. Yes, they were actually brothers. Wilbur Wright was born on April 16, 1867 and Orville Wright was born on August 19, 1871.
2. Their mother, Sarah, was very mechanically inclined. Her own father was a carriage maker and she spent a lot of time in his shop. She used to make her own appliances as well as toys for her children. The Wright brothers consulted their mother’s advice regularly as they designed their own machines.
3. In 1878, when Wilbur was 11 and Orville 7, their father gave them a helicopter-like toy to share. It was based on an invention by Alphonse Pénaud, and was made of paper, bamboo and cork with a rubber band to twirl the motor. The brothers later said this toy was the beginning of an obsession with flying machines.
4. Neither brother ever married, attended college or even obtained a high school diploma.
photo of Wright Bros. bicycle via Wikimedia Commons
5. In 1889, Orville and Wilbur started a newspaper printing business. In 1892 they opened up a bicycle repair shop. They designed their own bicycle with custom features like an oil-retaining wheel hub and coaster brakes, things still used today in modern bikes.
6. The Wright Brothers made life-sized copies of their beloved helicopter toy with the intention of making an aircraft that would hold them both.
7. They also made gliders of increasing size, which they tested over several years and flights. These glider planes put to test theories about wing-warping. By twisting the wings in different directions, they began to see how an airplane could be controlled.
photo of Wright Flyer 1 and first flight by John T. Daniels via Wikimedia Commons (public domain)
8. On Dec. 17, 1903 the brothers successfully launch the world’s first airplane. The Wright Flyer I. It was made of spruce and had propellers and a specially designed engine cast mainly from lightweight aluminum. It was the first controlled and powered flying machine that could fly with the weight of humans. From this design, the modern airplane was born.
9. The Wright Flyer I cost about $1000 to make.
10. The Wright Brothers only flew together once (though both piloted the planes individually): on May 25, 1910 they took a six-minute flight piloted by Orville with Wilbur as his passenger.
11. On that same day in May, Orville took his 82-year-old father, Milton, on a seven-minute flight. They flew at a height of about 350 feet.
Have you ever invented something based on a toy? Tell us about it!