Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough

This account of the first flyers and makers of airplanes is a great example of ambition, observation and study.  The author is a master at telling the true story.  The Wright brothers are an example that a college education is not necessary in gaining success.  Ambition, curiosity and the ability to read are really the components of success.

The brothers showed great curiosity and sought out information from all the available resources at the time.  They received information from the Smithsonian Institution and they read all that was available by the German pioneer in gliders, Otto Lilienthal and made friends with other scientists like Octave Chanute.  The brothers showed patience in observing the different birds and how each one differed from the other; how some soared and some plummeted at great speed with out losing control of their ability to regain altitude.  They were patient in taking notes and making diagrams of the different wings of each species of birds.  They took note of the different ways the birds tilted or warped their wings in flight making turns seem effortlessly.

Studying birds took some 4 years before the brother decided to test the effect of gliding in the air like birds.  They discovered that previous calculations made by the other pioneers were erroneous and they made their own adjustments.  They chose Kitty Hawk on the coast of the Carolinas because of the constant steady winds there.  Launching their glider into the wind to study the wind's effects enabled the brothers to create rudders to control the flight.

There seems so have been somewhat of a race as to whom would be the first flyer and the brothers were very wary of letting others into their circle of knowledge.  Their sister, Katherine was a booster along with their preacher father.  There was an representative of the marketing firm of Flint and Co. by the name of Harte Berg who represented the brothers in Europe.  Being patriotic Americans, the Wright brothers wanted the US government to have first crack at purchasing their airplanes, however when the US government turned them down flat they took their assets to Europe.  It was unclear why the US turned them down.  It was possible that since so much investment was made by Samuel Langley of the Smithsonian that turned into a colossal failure, the US gave up any hope of man's ability to fly.

The brothers created an engine with dual propellers and made their historic short flight in 1903. The next ten years great strides and improvements were implemented. They gave great demonstrations in France to large crowds and became a worldwide sensation that was covered by every major news outlet in the world!  Only after these exhibition flights could they interest their home government.

Although the brothers profited from their invention, they did not earn the fantastic wealth of some of the great entrepreneurs of that day.  And although there was always a lawsuit against someone who violated the Wright brothers' patents they did not seem greedy to get rich but rather only took that which struck them as their fair share.

The Wright brothers were not country bumpkins.  They were well self taught, great readers of literature and history.  They lived by the high moral standards set by their religious father.  For example, they never worked on their Sunday Sabbath.  Wilbur was perhaps more articulate than Orville but they lived by the code of a very close knit family.

This book is another example set by Mr. McCullough that the USA has been home to great exceptionalism where ambition, curiosity and thirst for knowledge produce great results.

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