Only eight days later, on the cold and windy 17th day of December morning in 1903, a flying machine took off and remained airborne for about 12 seconds covering a distance of just 120 feet. The two young men who made this flight possible were the Wright brothers whose feat summoned a new age in technology and human achievement. They will forever be remembered in history as the men responsible for making the first powered, heavier-than-air machine to achieve controlled, sustained flight with a pilot aboard recognized by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI).
Three years ago, December 2003 marked the 100th Anniversary of this groundbreaking achievement. Wilbur and Orville Wright were two small town businessmen who invented a technology that would define the 20th century. Theirs is a story that has inspired many generations of young and old alike, and much more on aspiring inventors. How the brothers succeeded, who had not even finished high school, is truly remarkable considering that there were so many who tried and failed, including many renowned scientists.
However, despite their unique place and honor in our history today, their claim to this aviation first had been laden with controversy. There were various competing parties who had laid counter-claims. Do the Wright brothers have a secure right in their claim? Wilbur and Orville Wright were children born to Milton Wright and Susan Catherine Koerner. Wilbur was born on 1867 in Indiana while Orville was born on 1871 in Ohio. Both never married. Other Wright siblings were Reuchlin, Lorin, Katherine, and twins Otis and Ida who died in infancy.
Their knack for fixing and building mechanical things were influenced by their mother and even in their early years, the boys earned money by making home-made mechanical toys. However, the brothers interest in flying objects was first developed way back to the time in 1878 when their father, who was a minister in the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, brought the boys a toy helicopter. It was made of paper, bamboo and cork with a rubber band to twist its rotor, making it their first flying toy, based on an invention by Alphonse Penaud.
Apparently, the boys got extremely fascinated that they played with it until it broke but pursued to build their own. They would later account this early experience with a toy that sparked their interest in flying. Wilbur later wrote of the lasting impression that this incident had brought upon them: instead of falling to the floor, as we expected, it flew across the room till it struck the ceiling, where it fluttered awhile, and finally sank to the floor¦lasted only a short time¦but its memory was abiding (T. Crouch. The Bishop Boys: A Life of Wilbur and Orville Wright).
Orvilles childhood was given to mischief and was even expelled once. Wilbur on the other hand, was athletic but an injury, although not severe, caused him to become withdrawn. He later dedicated himself on caring for his mother who was terminally ill with tuberculosis and to extensive reading in his fathers library. Although he did not pursue his studies at Yale, he was a determined and methodical industrial engineer, even braving to tackle projects such as machinery research and even church building (P. Jakab. Visions of a Flying Machine).
Both brothers finished high school education, but did not receive their diplomas. Wilbur did not receive his diploma despite completing his high school education because of the familys decision to move from Indiana to Dayton. Orville on the other hand, dropped out after his junior year and started a printing business. Later on, Wilbur joined and served as editor while Orville was the publisher of the West Side News. In 1892, the two opened a bicycle repair and sales shop and even manufactured their own brand. This enterprise funded their renewed interest in flight.