25 Things You May Not Know About Wilbur and Orville Wright

25 Things You May Not Know About the Wright Brothers

The Outer Banks of North Carolina is known for its place in aviation history by marking the location of what many consider the first powered, sustained and controlled manned airplane flights. Orville and Wilbur Wright ushered in the era of flight and soared into history.

From 1900-1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright made annual trips to the Outer Banks and set up camp outside Kitty Hawk conducting a series of experiments that would solve the problem of controlled, powered flight. They began using kites, then gliders, before adding an engine in 1903 that would ultimately launch the Wrights into fame.

But how much do you really know about the Wright Brothers? Check out these 25 lesser known facts about the fathers of modern aviation and sharpen your trivia skills. You never know when you may need them!

25 Things You May Not Know About Wilbur & Orville Wright

Wright Memorial1. A model helicopter made of cork, bamboo and paper and powered by a rubber band mesmerized the boys and sparked their passion for aviation. When the brothers were youngsters in 1878, their father returned home one evening with a gift that he tossed into the air. "Instead of falling to the floor, as we expected,” the brothers recalled in a 1908 magazine article, "it flew across the room till it struck the ceiling, where it fluttered awhile, and finally sank to the floor.”

2. The Wright brothers started a bicycle shop, which later funded their aviation pursuit. They went into business designing, building and repairing bicycles. They competed with many other bicycle shops, at first selling the popular brands and later designing and manufacturing their own.

3. Neither Orville nor Wilbur graduated from high school. A hockey accident left Wilbur badly injured and he fell into a depression, forgoing his plans to attend Yale. Instead, he stayed home and cared for his mother, who had tuberculosis. In the meantime, Wilbur’s younger brother Orville dropped out of high school his senior year to open a print shop.

4. The Wright Brothers' mother was mechanically inclined. Since their father was a bishop and traveled a lot, Wilbur and Orville's mother was the go-to person for help and advice. She was known to design and build her own appliances, as well as toys for her kids and their friends.

5. Orville and Wilbur were avid readers, thanks to their father. Bishop Milton Wright had a passion for books. He insisted that his kids have a good liberal arts education, even though Wilbur and Orville never went to college. They never even finished high school, but they were informed, full of curiosity, and obviously innovative.

6. Their father did not always support their endeavors. He once said, "It is impossible for men in the future to fly like birds. Flying is reserved for the angels. Do not mention that again lest you be guilty of blasphemy.”

7. The Wright Brothers had very different personalities. Wilbur was known to be quiet and studious. Orville was shy but mischievous. Orville had always been especially shy outside of the home. Wilbur was often the public face of the Wright enterprise. He was an exceptional orator and wrote much of their correspondence to fellow inventors and scientists to learn about aviation.

8. Wilbur and Orville started their own newspaper. In 1889 a West Dayton paper called West Side News was born, in which Wilbur was the editor and Orville the publisher.

9. Wilbur Wright almost drowned on his first trip to Kitty Hawk. The barrier island was only accessible by boat, and his ferrymen’s boat sprung a leak while a gale storm ripped the schooner’s mainsail to tatters. After frantically bailing water and a fretful overnight at anchor, Wilbur arrived at Kitty Hawk on September 13, 1900.

10. The Wright Brothers found survival on the Outer Banks difficult. Though the waters teemed with fish, farms were less fertile, and cows produced little milk. They survived primarily on a diet of tomatoes, local eggs and hot biscuits made without milk. Orville once stated the only things that thrived in the Outer Banks were bed bugs, mosquitos and wood ticks. (To learn more about this, read our post on Food Traditions on the OBX.)

11. Orville and Wilbur found the conditions of Kitty Hawk favorable for flying, but not much else. Wind gusts would rip their tent from the ground. When they bent down to hold it, sand blew in their eyes. They returned to Kitty Hawk each year and persevered through hot summers and clouds of mosquitos that Orville described as "Misery! Misery!” However, in the end, they did appreciate Kitty Hawk and the surrounding Outer Banks for its natural beauty.

12. A coin toss determined who would pilot the Wright Flyer on its first flight. Wilbur won. Unfortunately he pulled too hard on the controls and the craft crashed after only 100 feet. After two days of repairs, it was Orville’s turn on December 17, 1903.

13. The Wright brothers made history before their 40th birthdays. Wilbur was thirty six years old and Orville was only thirty two years old they flew their first successful flight.

Wright Flyer14. Only 5 people witnessed the first flight of the Wright Brothers' motorized plane. So few witnesses attended that the Wrights struggled to convince reporters. Most folks in their hometown didn’t believe them, and the U.S. government paid little attention. It would take another two years and moving their test ground to Huffman Prairie in Ohio before they garnered enough publicity to attract overseas interest.

15. After its first day of flight, the 1903 Wright Glider never flew again. The brothers made four flights in the Wright Flyer on December 17, 1903, and as Orville and Wilbur stood discussing the final flight, a sudden strong gust of wind caught hold of the aircraft and flipped it several times. The aircraft sustained such heavy damage to its ribs, motor and chain guides that it was beyond repair. The Wright Flyer was crated back to Dayton and never flew again.

16. A remnant of a test glider built by the Wright Brothers has been found in Kitty Hawk. After the test flights of the first three gliders, the aircraft were so beat up from their time at Kitty Hawk that the Wright brothers just left them behind on the beaches of Kitty Hawk. A wingtip was later recovered, and is the only piece found from the Wright brothers’ gliders.

17. The Wright brothers only flew together one time. After the brothers built a plane big enough for two passengers, they maintained a policy of not flying together. Early flight was dangerous, and they wanted to ensure that at least one of them could continue their work in the event of a fatal crash. They had also made a promise to their father not to, for he feared he'd lose both his sons at one time in a plane crash.

18. Neither Orville nor Wilbur enjoyed being famous. They both shunned the limelight, but their younger sister, Katharine, excelled at talking with the press and navigating fame. Once the family became famous, she took on the role of the family's chief spokesperson.

19. Neither of the Wright brothers ever married. Orville responded to questions on the topic by saying that Wilbur should marry first as the older brother. Whereas Wilbur famously told reporters that he didn’t have time for both a wife and an airplane.

20. The brothers became almost instantly wealthy after establishing the Wright Company in 1909. Though much of their time was devoted to patent disputes, the brothers opened a flight school and sold airplane designs and hardware.

21. Orville was involved in the first fatal aviation accident. The Wright brothers marketed their two-passenger Wright Military Flyer to the U.S. Army, which required a demonstration. On September 17, 1908, Orville took to the air for a demonstration flight at Fort Myer, Virginia, with Army Signal Corps Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge as a passenger. Just a few minutes into the flight, the propeller suddenly disintegrated, the aircraft spiraled out of control and it smashed into the ground at full speed. Rescuers pulled an unconscious Selfridge from the wreckage, and the lieutenant died hours later. Orville was hospitalized for six weeks after suffering a broken leg, four broken ribs and a back injury that impaired him for the rest of his life.

22. Orville far outlived his brother. Wilbur died of typhoid fever in 1912. Orville lived until 1948, when he died of a heart attack at age 77.

23. Orville was alive to see the airplane revolution. He met Charles Lindbergh in 1927. He flew for the last time with Howard Hughes onboard the Lockheed Constellation in 1944. Orville witnessed many milestones in aviation — the creation of jet propulsion and the first rocket — but he also saw the destruction caused by bombers in World War II.

24. "No, I don’t have any regrets about my part in the invention of the airplane, though no one could deplore more than I the destruction it has caused.” Orville said said this in an article with the St. Louis Post Dispatch on November 7, 1943. He continues, "We dared to hope we had invented something that would bring lasting peace to the Earth. But we were wrong. We underestimated man’s capacity to hate and to corrupt good means for an evil end."

First in Flight

25. Astronaut Neil Armstrong brought a piece of the Wright Flyer with him to the moon. Neil Armstrong became the first man to step foot on the moon in 1969. Inside his spacesuit pocket was a piece of muslin fabric from the left wing of the original 1903 Wright Flyer along with a piece of wood from the airplane’s left propeller.

We hope this is a fitting tribute to these famous brothers as December 17, 2015 marks 112 years since this epic event in aviation history occurred on the Outer Banks.

In celebration, be sure to visit the Wright Brothers National Memorial on December 17 from 9a.m. to 5p.m. for the 112th Celebration of the first flight. Gather at the exact site at the exact time as the historic flight to remember, reflect and celebrate this day-long anniversary tribute of the Wright Brother’s first flight.

Activities include fly-overs with various types and style of planes. This year Jerrie Mock, the first woman to complete a solo flight around the world, will be the 2015 inductee in the Paul E. Garber First Flight Shrine. In 1964, at age 38, and the mother of three, Ms. Mock flew a single engine Cessna 180 christened the "Spirit of Columbus”, nicknamed "Charlie”, a total of 23,000 miles in 29 days, to become another "first” in the world of aviation. Keep an eye out for Colonel Gail Halverson aka "The Candy Bomber” who has been in attendance, flying over and dropping candy to the kids as he did back during WWII. What a wonderful way to experience living history at its finest! Hope you can make it.

If you're interesting in reading more fun and fascinating facts about Orville and Wilbur Wright, check out this PBS feature on the Wright brothers and the History Channel's spotlight on the Wrights.

Be sure to make the Wright Brothers National Memorial a must-see on your next OBX vacation! Will we see you at the Wright Brothers Memorial for the 112th First in Flight Anniversary Celebration on December 17? Hope so!