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Orville Wright
Orville Wright.jpg
Photo: 1903
Born (1871-08-19)August 19, 1871
Died January 30, 1948(1948-01-30) (aged 76)
Wilbur Wright
Wilbur Wright.jpg
Photo: 1903
Born (1867-04-16)April 16, 1867
Died May 30, 1912(1912-05-30) (aged 45)

The Wright brothers, Orville Wright (August 19, 1871 – January 30, 1948) and Wilbur Wright (April 16, 1867 – May 30, 1912), designed, built, and flew the first controlled, powered, heavier-than-air airplane on December 17, 1903. They had been experimenting for many years with gliders and other vehicles before their first powered flight. They are also known for making the first way to steer an airplane. They designed the aircraft in Dayton, Ohio, and their first test flight was in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

Before building airplanes

The Wrights grew up in Dayton, Ohio. They were sons of a minister. There were many books in their house, and they were encouraged to ask questions and find out about whatever they thought was interesting. Sometimes their father would ask them to argue for a topic, then switch sides and argue for the opposite point of view.

They went to high school, but did not go to college; they started a newspaper instead. After that, they started a shop to build and repair bicycles.

Learning how to fly

By the 1890s, the Wrights were interested in flight, especially the gliders of Otto Lilienthal. They started working on making airplanes in their bicycle shop. They thought controlling a plane was one of the big problems of flight. Lilienthal and others had been killed when they could not control their aircraft. The Wright brothers fixed the problem by inventing control surfaces, such as a rudder that would work in the air. They built wings that could be twisted a little and moved up and down slightly, to control flight.

From 1900 to 1902, they built gliders in Dayton and tested them in Kitty Hawk, where there were strong and steady winds. They also made small versions of the wings and built a wind tunnel for model airplanes to test how well different wing shapes would lift an airplane.


In 1903, they built a powered airplane that had propellers and a small engine. The Wright Flyer airplane first flew successfully on December 17, 1903, near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. This was the first time people ever flew a powered airplane they could control. Before that, people flew in balloons or gliders, or for a very short time in planes they could not control. The two brothers continued to make changes to their design and had a very good plane by 1905.

Picture of the first flight with Orville Wright at the controls and Wilbur Wright running beside it.

The Wright Brothers kept their discovery largely secret for a couple of years, until they showed it to the world in 1908 (They had filed a patent on the airplane March 23, 1903.)

After that, they started a company to build airplanes and had a “patent war” with Glenn Curtiss over who could make money from the invention of the airplane. During the patent war, Wilbur died. Orville continued working to keep his reputation as the first man to fly. Later he sold the airplane company and became an “elder statesman” of aviation. He died in 1948.

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