Some Famous Scientists in History

Wright Brothers plane at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C.

The Wright Brothers
Student News Net staff

On December 17, 1903 the Wright Flyer, made by Orville and Wilbur, took to the skies in the first successful manned flight in a plane powered by an engine. The 100th anniversary of that flight is being celebrated throughout 2003. In December many events will take place, including the opening of a new addition to the National Air and Space Museum in Washington.

ORVILLE AND WILBUR WRIGHT made history by inventing the "flying machine" or as we know it today, the "airplane." Can you imagine doing everything with your brother even working with him your entire life?! Well, Orville and Wilbur were as close as any two brothers could be. They worked together, lived together and had the same ideas about many things. In fact, neither one got married or ever started smoking tobacco or drinking alcohol.

Wilbur Wright was born on April 16, 1867 in Indiana and Orville was born on Aug. 19, 1871 in Dayton, Ohio.

They had two older brothers, Reuchlin and Lorin, and one younger sister, Katherine. Their father, Milton Wright, was a minister of the United Brethren Church and their mother, Susan Wright, took care of the home and enjoyed working with her hands. In fact, the Wright Brothers think they got their interest and ability in mechanical things from their mother who built them a snow sled and would fix their toys. Their father was not very good with tools and couldn't fix anything!

Sadly, Susan Wright died of tuberculosis (a lung infection) in 1889 when Orville was only 16. From that time on until their deaths, Wilbur, Orville, Milton and Katherine Wright lived together in the family home. Reuchlin and Lorin married and had children.

Important dates

1. March 1, 1889: Wilbur and Orville publish the "West Side News", a neighborhood weekly newspaper.

2. 1892: Wright Cycle Company was founded to sell, rent, repair, and build bicycles.

3. 1899: Wright Brothers became interested in flight as reports of Otto Lilienthal's gliders (no engine) from Germany became known. They wrote to the Smithsonian Institution and asked for information about flight experiments.

4.1900: The unmanned (nobody on the glider) Wright glider flew around Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

5.1901: Wright Brothers launched a larger glider but it crashed and Wilbur suffered a bruised nose, cuts on his face, and a black eye. After the accident, the glider was flown unmanned.

6.1902: Wright Brothers designed a new, much larger glider with a tail to make turning easier. After crashing the glider a few times, they figured out that they had to make the tail moveable. Orville thought of this solution one night when he couldn't go to sleep and Wilbur agreed with him that it was a great idea. Now they were ready to build a flying machine with a motor on it!

7.10:35 a.m. on Dec. 17, 1903: Wright Brothers accomplished the first successful airplane flight with Orville at the controls and Wilbur running alongside the plane. The plane flew 120 feet in 12 seconds.

8.1904: Eighty short flights flown by the Wright Brothers in their Flyer.

9.1905: The new Flyer III was built and was the world's first practical airplane because it could take off and land numerous times.

10. 1906-1908: The Wright Brothers did not fly again or show their machine to anyone while they filed for United States Patents so that nobody could copy their invention.

11. May 14, 1908: Wilbur and Orville went back to North Carolina and flew a new, two passenger plane. After the successful flight, Orville returned to Dayton and Wilbur went to France to demonstrate their flying machine.

12. Sept. 17, 1908: Orville was flying with Lt. Thomas Selfridge when the plane went into a nosedive and crashed. Selfridge was killed and Orville had a fractured thigh, several broken ribs, severe scalp wounds, and back injuries.Orville recovered from the crash and flew again.

13. Oct. 4, 1909: Wilbur flew up the Hudson River beyond Grant's Tomb for a total of 20 miles. Almost 1 million people in New York watched the flight.

14.1909: Wilbur and Orville established the Wright Flyers factory in Dayton to make airplanes.

15. May 30, 1912: Wilbur dies of typhoid fever (bacterial infection spread by bad food or water) at the age of 45.

16. Jan. 30, 1948: Orville dies of a heart attack at age 76 in Dayton.

17. July 1969: Apollo II lands on the moon with two men, one of whom (Neil Armstrong) was carrying a piece of fabric from a wing on the original Wright Flyer flown in 1903.

For more information on the Centennial celebration, visit


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