Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Wilbur and Orville Wright, Great American Innovators

Wilbur and Orville Wright were bicycle manufacturers with a dream bigger than their day-to-day jobs and putting bread on their tables. Their dream of flying through the air was not has dreamed of flying for all of recorded history. The Wright brothers' dream was born of curiosity, excitement and their technical knowledge, prime ingredients for a stew of innovation.

They studied, by scouring what little literature existed on flight and wrote to the so-called experts of the day. They experimented endlessly for years by building prototype after prototype in their bike shop at their own expense. They created models, full-sized gliders and a clever ahead-of-its-time wind tunnel before developing a powered craft in 1903. They were obsessed with manned flight, in the grand American tradition of stubborn, obsessive, hard-working innovators Thomas Edison and George Washington Carver, Bill Gates (Microsoft), Jeff Bezos (Amazon) and Meg Whitman (eBay), and so many more.

The Wright brothers tested gliders on the shores of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina for several years before daring to put their Wright Flyer to the test. One hundred years ago today, Orville Wright, 32 years old, held a rudimentary motion picture camera while his older brother, Wilbur, 36 years old, climbed aboard the flying machine and laid prone across the lower wing surface.

Their risk taking was astonishing, and their blind confidence was equally astonishing. Odds were that the Wright Flyer would crash, and Wilbur would have perished along with his machine. Think about had NEVER flown before. Modern statistics would give them absolutely no chance for success. Interesting that these bright men knew to record this event not to glorify their achievements, but to provide proof to a skeptical world of the first manned-flight.

On December 17, 1903, Wilbur Wright first flew his rickety invention 120 feet, with a last successive flight that day of 852 feet, for 59 seconds, while his co-inventor brother recorded it for all ages. Mankind was changed forever.

The next time you hear of some bold and bright, creative, over-confident risk-taker with a wildly different idea, remember the Wright brothers and their crazy dream. Take a moment to listen, to care, to support. Honor them and their dreams as God-inspired. These are the ones who change our world. Innovation is the genius and great accomplishment, the true legacy, of our United States.

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