In the waning days of the 19th century and on the eve of a new technological era, French, English, and American inventors (as well as a host of charlatans, stuntmen, and profiteers) were racing to be the first to achieve powered, heavier-than-air flight. At the center of this activity were two little-known bicycle mechanics from Dayton, Ohio — Wilbur and Orville Wright.
This highly regarded volume, considered by many to be the definitive study of the Wrights, tells the full story of the brothers' lives and works: from their early childhood and initial fascination with flight, through the years of experimentation with gliders on the sand dunes of Indiana, to the exhilarating days on the Outer Banks of North Carolina where they perfected the design for the initial flyer, culminating in the historic first flight in December, 1903, at Kitty Hawk. The book also relates in detail the bitter patent fight and exhausting legal battles that followed as well as Wilbur's untimely death and Orville's later years.
Author Fred Howard, an expert on early aviation technology and member of the team that edited a multi-volume edition of the Wright brothers' papers for the Library of Congress, is uniquely qualified to tell this story. He not only provides a remarkable account of the brothers' enormous achievements, but has also captured the spirit of an extraordinary era, paying tribute to the contributions of such legendary aviation pioneers as Octave Chanute, Samuel Pierpont Langley, Glenn Curtiss, Alberto Santos-Dumont, Louis Blériot, and many others.
Unparalleled in its scope and colorful depiction of the Wright brothers and their times, this authoritative and thoroughly entertaining work will thrill and delight aviation buffs, students of American history, and anyone fascinated by the early days of flight.
As a former Library of Congress aeronautics editor who worked on the Wright papers, Howard is well qualified to write about the brothers and to redress the rumors, claims and falsifications that followed their successful flights. He establishes early on that the Wrights were not mere tinkerers who owned a Dayton bicycle shop but that they had sufficient background in mathematics and physics to be aware of the theory as well as the practice of flight. Much of the book is devoted to the brothers' efforts to market their invention, which proceeded slowly because they were not businessmen, and the difficulties they had with those who asserted that they, not the Wrights, were the first to fly. Throughout the biography there runs the thread of two loving brothers and the warm family life that helped to sustain them in their struggles. Commendably, Howard describes the technical features of their work in a fashion quite comprehensible to lay readers. A fine job. Photos not seen by PW. History Book Club alternate.