Reproduction of a portrait of inventor Wilbur Wright from Dayton, Ohio, ca. 1900-1912. Wilbur and his brother Orville built and flew the first mechanically powered airplane.
Aviator Wilbur Wright was born on April 16, 1867, in Millville, Indiana. His parents were Bishop Milton Wright and Susan Catharine Wright. Wilbur Wright was the third of the Wrights' four children. When Wright was only a child, the family moved to Dayton, Ohio. He attended the local public schools with his siblings but never graduated from high school or attended college.
Wright and his brother Orville were continually looking for new challenges. As young men, the two brothers went into business together. At one point, they opened a print shop. They also began making bicycles in their own bicycle shop. These bicycles were called Wright Flyers. The Wright brothers had an interest in flight that had been sparked by a toy shaped like a helicopter that their father had given them as children. As adults, the two men were interested in gliders like those built by Otto Lilienthal. Wilbur and his brother began experimenting with wing designs for an airplane. They envisioned a bi-plane that could be guided by warping the wings.
Orville and Wilbur Wright continued to experiment with their airplane designs, first with gliders and eventually with powered flight. Their first successful flight of a powered airplane occurred at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on December 17, 1903. That first plane was very primitive, but within a few years, the Wright brothers, as well as other aircraft designers, had begun to make many improvements. The first flight only lasted twelve seconds and traveled 120 feet, but a later flight that day lasted fifty-nine seconds and traveled 852 feet.
Many Americans, including journalists, did not believe the story of the Wright brothers' first flight. Only five Ohio newspapers covered the story originally, because the others refused to believe that flight was possible. That skepticism proved to be short-lived, and Americans became very interested in news stories about airplanes. In the short term, the Wrights found it difficult to obtain funding for their efforts. They attempted to sell their design to the United States military, but the government was still too skeptical about the possibilities of flight. By 1908 and 1909, Wilbur Wright was gaining international attention for the brothers' designs by setting aeronautical records in France. He also sought newspaper coverage by flying around the Statue of Liberty and then flying along the Hudson River. Throughout this time period, the Wright brothers were continuing to develop new advances in aeronautical design.
Wilbur Wright's promise was cut short when he contracted typhoid fever. He died on May 30, 1912. His brother Orville continued to work on new developments in aircraft design after Wilbur's death.