To fully appreciate just how forward-thinking the Wright Brothers were, you have to recognize the historical context in which their vision of flight developed. Because Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in 1903 bore very little resemblance to Silicon Valley, NASA, or SpaceX headquarters.
In that year, the first box of Crayola Crayons was manufactured and sold, along with the first-ever teddy bear. Radio operators completed the first successful transatlantic broadcast from the U.S. to England. America’s captivation with the automobile was just getting underway, with Ford’s Model A being the feature release of the year.
Indeed, the argument could be made that SpaceX’s modern vision of enabling human beings to live on other planets is probably more realistic than a couple of 30-something-year-old guys in 1903 with no formal education, engineering expertise, technical training, support, and little money, building a true flying machine.
But successfully build it they did. On December 17, 1903, Orville Wright flew the first-ever powered airplane 20-feet into the air and covered a distance of 120 feet.
Brother Wilbur then piloted another (record) flight that day that traveled 852-feet and lasted almost a full minute.
The event was and continues to be one of the most extraordinary feats in human history.
Like many visionaries, the Wright Brothers were ahead of their time. Their aim to take flight was ridiculed and considered foolish by many.
Even after their successful initial flights, praise and acknowledgment were slow to arrive. Just five people were on hand to observe the spectacle on December 17. The brothers’ early appeals for press coverage were greeted lukewarmly, with even their home paper, Ohio’s Dayton Journal, claiming the flights were too short to be of true importance. (Whoops.)
Despite the lack of encouragement and positive reception, the Wright Brothers continued to advance their aircraft. They “Flyer II” and “Flyer III” featured larger wingspans and higher horsepower engines.
The “Model A Flyer” finally brought the Wright Brothers deserved recognition. After achieving a patent on their “aeroplane” in 1906, they embarked on record-breaking flights in the United States and France in 1908 that made them bona fide celebrities.
In 1909 the United States government purchased the rights to use the brothers’ airplanes. That year, Wilbur and Orville were also awarded the Congressional Medal for their flying achievements.
The Wright Company opened the first-ever civilian flight training school in 1910, and continued to develop increasingly capable airplanes until 1912 when Wilbur died of Typhoid fever. Orville sold the Wright Company and all of its intellectual property to investors a few years later.
In 1959 President Dwight D. Eisenhower commemorated their achievements with Wright Brothers Day. It has been observed annually on December 17 since that year.
Almost 100,000 flights occur per day around the world. It’s virtually impossible to quantify the importance of flight to our modern world, and it all started with the Wright Brothers on in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. So we encourage you to take a moment to honor Wilbur and Orville on Wright Brothers Day.