Back in the Shop

Bishop Milton Wright grew up on a farm in Indiana. His wife died of Tuberculosis, leaving the Bishop with their five remaining children (two others died in infancy). Wright read obsessively and cultivated in his kids a desire to learn.

Two of his children developed an obsessive fascination with the possibility of human flight. In first grade, one brought a toy to school and while tinkering with it informed his teacher he “was making a machine that he and his brother would fly someday.”[1]

Wilbur and Orville spent their life tinkering. They ran a bicycle shop in their small Ohio town while they spent every extra moment prospective models. They studied birds, built wind tunnels, and experimented with fabrics. They spent winters on the sand dunes of the North Carolina coast testing the wind and living in a shed they built by hand. Meanwhile, The Washington Post declared, “It is a fact that man can’t fly.” Who could blame them? Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell had tried and failed. If two of the world’s most famous inventors could not figure this out who would bet on two unknown bike mechanics? Their determination to do something nobody had ever done was unreasonable. Six years later,and a few yards from their shed on the beach, they flipped a coin. Orville won and climbed in The Kitty Hawk. Twelve seconds and 120 feet later they had proven everybody wrong.

Had they stopped there, “The Wright Brothers” name would still likely be as infamously inseparable as Lewis and Clark. North Carolina’s license plate would likely still read “First in Flight” and University of Dayton mascot would be the Flyers. But, they didn’t stop. 

They returned to that Kitty Hawk beach for three years. They re-imagined their aircraft. They broke their own flight record again and again. 

However, they were better at flying than publicity. When they failed to garner interest in their invention stateside, Wilbur sailed to France. Crowds began to gather and wait (and wait) for Wilbur, they flying man. He had to be satisfied with every inch of his aircraft and the accompanying weather before he would take off. He never cared who was waiting or how long they waited. He would not go up until he was satisfied everything was ready. It was in France the first pictures and video of manned flight were taken. The press caught on. Folks back home began to see pictures in the paper of their hometown boys.

In France, Wilbur and Orville became famous men.

After many months it was time to come home. They had been mocked, overlooked, and under-appreciated. They arrived to a week of parades, awards, fanfare, and speeches. How would they respond to their success? One reporter followed the brothers around and documented the day of their homecoming celebration.

9 a.m. – Left their workshop (still in their work clothes) to hear every whistle blow and bell ring for ten minutes in their honor

9:10 a.m. – Returned to work

10:00 a.m. Opening ceremony of the “Homecoming Celebration”

11:00 a.m. Returned to work

12:00 p.m. Dinner with their family and friends

2:30 p.m. Parade in their honor

4:00 p.m. Returned to work

8:00 p.m. Public reception

9:00 p.m. Firework display

It would have been the most normal thing in the world to revel in their own success. Instead, they got back in the shop. They were not finished. In fact, they appeared to sneak back into the shop. For Wilbur and Orville, applause was not a reward, it was a distraction.[2] 

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