Fanciful Flights of The Wright Brothers

I tend to gravitate more to historical biographies and the tellings of great humans and events in history.

The quote that sticks out most is by Mark Twain, “History doesn’t repeat itself, it rhymes.” The view that life and the world we live in is a song with a with a rhythm as similar and yet distinct as each passing day.

Senator and presidential hopeful Ted Cruz, bailed on the last week of the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, leaving a gaping hole that needed to be filled last minute.

Up from the book promo circuit came noted author David McCullough bringing to life his biography of the Wright Brothers, and their quest for machine flight.

Immediately after watching the interview, I downloaded the book to my kindle.

Two weeks later, I am more than satisfied with the modern interpretation of the success, tribulations, and triumphs of the brothers. Writing this report from Silicon Valley, the Wright Brothers story highlights how wrong conventional wisdom usually is, and how quickly people can adapt. Self driving cars anyone?


  • The America of 1901 and the America of 2015 are worlds apart. Transporting your mind space to a backwards culture where flight is openly dismissed as impossible. The inertia is jolting. Before movies, when telegrams were the fastest form of communication. Ohio is a boom state!
  • Their approach to innovation was start with the most basic element of the item. Before experimenting with an engine, they first developed the glider to determine balance.
  • All of the science up until that point regarding flight was plain wrong. The brothers had to reinvent their own models and start from scratch after testing their first glider.
  • Even after launching successful flights from the coasts of the Carolinas, the press didn’t pick it up. It wasn’t until two years later back in Dayton Ohio, that a local bee magnate Amos Ives Root, published a story in “Gleanings of Bee Culture”.
  • The Brothers successfully built and sold bicycles that financed their flight endeavors. This independent cash flow was responsible for their ability to weather failures and create with limited means.
  • After the Brothers successfully flew in Carolina, the U.S. army was dubious of their claim, jaded from other failed efforts mainly from the well funded Smithsonian.
  • Alexander Graham Bell was suspected of spying on the Wright’s design. On a flight with a known Bell Operative and Army office, the plane crashed, killing the passenger with Orville barely surviving.
  • The Wright’s airplane was finally proven in front of the international community in France! The French at the time had the most advanced aeronautical industry with Airships and ballooning. The backlash from haters was palpable, until it wasn’t. The world went from landlocked to airborne overnight.

People are unpredictable which makes working with them so hard. The Brothers were always more comfortable with tools in the workshop than management in the office.

Wilbur Wright, the older of the two brothers, was driven to his deathbed 6 years after the first flight by endless patent lawsuits. Dying from typhoid fever, he is quoted as saying:

“We feel very sad, but it is always easier to deal with things than with men, and no one can direct his life entirely as he would choose.”

In today’s startup and disruption crazy world, it’s nice to see underdogs and impossibles happen in unpredictable ways from unlikely people and circumstance. It gives inspiration for wholeheartedly and doggedly pursuing dreams, even if they sometimes crash before liftoff.

Wilbur and Orville Wright test out their glider in the desolate beauty and steady winds of Kitty Hawk N. Carolina c. 1901