Posted on September 12, 2020
Author: David McCullough
My Rating: 4/5
Before reading this book I knew that the Wright Brothers invented the airplane. I also knew that they ran a bicycle shop before that. I had probably heard of Kitty Hawk, but I don’t think I could’ve answered whether that was the name of their plane or what exactly it was. Otherwise, I was pretty clueless as to what these two brothers were about… and this was one of the reasons I started reading a lot more a few years back.
These two brothers were pretty weird, but they also had quite some drive about them from the get-go – setting up a printing press in their shed and then after that, starting and growing their bicycle business. So they weren’t dumb and it’s mentioned more than once that they were very hard workers who worked 6 days a week routinely. But they were weird in that they stayed bachelors, lived together, had a joint checking account, and weren’t too interested in other people.
“The Wrights were ‘two of the workingest boys’ ever seen. And when they worked, they worked… they had their whole heart and soul in what they were doing.”
I liked that their dad, Bishop, preferred informal education over the formal education of school. He was a “lifelong lover of books” and “ranked reading as worthy”. As I’ve gotten older and as the world of Google and YouTube has come up – I believe that self teaching far outweighs school already and things will continue that way. Those that can and will put in the effort to teach themselves with the tools available will succeed.
I also liked that their father, a man devoted to God, encouraged his children to read “The Great Agnostic” and wanted his kids to “investigate and conclude for their ownself”. That’s good and probably got the brothers thinking about other things as well.
I thought it was interesting that bicycles, at one point, were proclaimed morally hazardous and voices were raised in protest. It was said that children could be far away from home and not spending enough time with their books. It’s funny how time changes some things.
There were several people at the time trying to figure out flight – including Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison – but these two young brothers thought they could figure it out better. That’s a pretty cool attitude to have.
“In no way did any of this discourage or deter Wilbur and Orville Wright, any more than the fact that they had had no college education, no formal technical training, no experience working with anyone other than themselves, no friends in high places, no financial backers, no government subsidies, and little money of their own. Or the entirely real possibility that at some point… they could be killed.”
They figured out flight methodically – through studying, through experiments, through trying and failing, and getting just a little bit better, incrementally, over many years. They had accidents, boiling water spraying at Wilbur’s body – and they wrecked the airplane – Orville’s wreck in 1908 almost killed him.
“It wasn’t luck that made them fly; it was hard work and common sense; they put their whole heart and all their energy into an idea and they had the faith.”
I think they were also very smart businessmen. They knew what they had and what it was worth and weren’t willing to settle for less and also made smart partnerships with other smart people. They always seemed to take their time in everything they did. This paid off for them in the long run. They didn’t seem to “celebrate” or let up at all until they knew they had accomplished what they set out to accomplish.
I also thought it was interesting how much “fake news” was back in 1900’s as well – it was mentioned multiple times that newspapers had fabricated stories about the Wright Brothers – both good and bad. It’s funny how some things don’t change.
Wilbur died shortly after the success from typhoid fever, but Orville got to grow old and see the good and bad of their invention. It’s pretty cool that at the time they started thinking about flight, automobiles were not even common – why would they think they could build an airplane? But they did.