All I knew about the Wright brothers from public schools and popular media was this: They operated a bicycle shop where they tinkered, trying to develop a motorized aircraft. They took it to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, where they flew it—a first.
While that thumbnail is true, it does not do justice to the historic achievement and individual initiative of Wilbur and Orville Wright. The fuller story is told in the hardcover and audiobook, "The Wright Brothers" by two-time Pulitzer winner David McCullough, author of "Truman"; "John Adams"; "The Johnstown Flood"; "The Bridge Between the Seas"; "Mornings on Horseback"; and "The Great Bridge."
The 336-page book is available here.
The Wright brothers not only invented the airplane but also developed it through many stages, all without government money or regulation—American inventiveness and entrepreneurship.
Years of work and four trips to almost-inaccessible Kitty Hawk on North Carolina's Outer Banks.
It was the first successful flight that almost no one heard about for several years.
Improvements during months of test flights near their hometown of Dayton, Ohio, which the media ignored, to their later regret.
No interest from the U.S. government, which had wasted $50,000 in collaborating with a different unsuccessful attempt at flight.
Thousands watched demonstration flights for weeks by Wilbur in France, which first bought Wright planes.
Thousands watched demonstration flights for weeks by Orville outside Washington.
Orville's injurious crash, which killed his military passenger, Lt. Selfridge.
And then, the Wright Brothers came to Alabama. They built the world's first flight school in Montgomery. In the spring of 1910, the two Wrights opened the first civilian flying school on The Kohn Plantation, an old cotton field outside Montgomery. The location was then used for aircraft repair during "The Great War," later called World War I. In 1922, the site became Maxwell Field, which would evolve into what is now Maxwell Air Force Base.
This is an all-American story. Two difference-making lives. No wonder the state of North Carolina adopted the slogan, "First in Flight."
The book's author, David McCullough, died in August 2022. His final of many contributions to American history was that he narrated his own book. His was the voice on the audiobook, "The Wright Brothers." His voice was clear and strong, like his writings. But his voice was also mature. Old, in fact. Like he was narrating something that happened 120 years ago.
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