The Wright Brothers

Reviewed on , book by David McCullough

What a fantastic story. You can tell that the author has immersed himself deeply in the brothers, their family, and the places they spend their time. It is the story of how hard work, discipline, and inexhaustible trial and error is what created the first heavier-than-air flight, not a flash of genius or wealth of equations.

It is filled to the brink with great stories of chracter and grit. The Wright brothers started out as bicycle mechanics, back in a time where bikes were seen as the new evil. “What are kids going to turn into if they ride their bikes around all day instead of reading books?” Through 10 years of toil and experiments, they built the first machine capable of human flights that could fly at hours at a time. Other attempts in the past had focused on heavy motors and power, while the brothers thought the most important thing would be to get the control mechanics right. They’d practise first without an engine at all. The more hours they could get in the air with the controls, the better they’d become at flying. It wasn’t just a feat of engineering, the brothers thought, but also of learning to operating something no-one had ever controled before.

Through their invention, they became famous. In the wake of the industrial revolution, there was a feeling in America of “all the things that could be invented have been invented.” The Wright brother certaintly contributed to rekindling this excitement for innovation. They never took their mind off of improving the machine. When they returned home to their hometown and there was a parade, they slipped in and out of their workshop to attend various parades, but worked throughout the day. When they were to show the machine in front of 1000s of people including most of the US Senate, the weather was poor, and they decided to cancel it. What an anthisesis to sunk cost.

One of my favorites from the book is when one of the brothers was asked what he thought about the airship: “The airship has reached its limit but the flier was stlll filled with potential.”