It’s Wright Brothers Day!

December 17 is Wright Brothers Day! We owe a lot to those fellows, so let’s take a minute to celebrate their achievements.

Wright Brothers Day “commemorates the first successful flights in a heavier-than-air, mechanically propelled airplane, that were made by Orville and Wilbur Wright on December 17, 1903, near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.” It was codified a national observance by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1959.

Photograph of the Wright Brothers' first flight in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, 1903.
The Wright Brothers' first flight

The Wright Brothers are generally heralded as the founders of modern aviation. While not the first to create experimental flying machines, they were the first known to create a machine that sustained flight and could be controlled solely by the operator, not by the wind. And they continued to tweak their machine until they arrived at the design we think of today as the original flying machine.

After their continued successes in the early 1900s, the brothers were able to patent their technology and move forward in the aviation business. Unfortunately, after the death of Wilbur Wright, the true businessman of the family, in 1912, Orville sold the company and continued to be more of a sideline observer of the continued development of aviation. He continued to guide younger aviation inventors until his death in the 1940s—his last flight was piloted by Howard Hughes himself. How cool is that?

The wildest thing? Neither of them officially finished high school. Wilbur, the oldest, finished all four years, but was never granted a diploma after the family abruptly left the area where he’d attended school. Too bad, because he was planning on heading to Yale. Orville, four years younger, dropped out of school after three years to start his own printing business, after he designed and built his own printing press. We’re not talking about incompetent youths here.

Want to see more?

The Wright Brothers in Biography in Context

Here are some of their own words:

Orville Wright diary entry, December 17 

Orville Wright Telegraph to his father 

Another account of the events (attributed to Orville Wright but lacking source description)

And finally, watch this A&E Video about the lives of the Wright Brothers 

Still need more? How about some books:

The Wright Brothers