Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 144,258 pages of information and 230,175 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.
The Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur, were two Americans who are generally credited with inventing and building the world's first successful aeroplane and making the first powered controlled and sustained heavier-than-air human flight, on December 17, 1903.
They are also officially credited with "the first sustained and controlled heavier-than-air powered flight" through the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, the standard-setting and record-keeping body for aeronautics and astronautics.
In the subsequent two years, the brothers developed their flying machine into the first practical fixed-wing aircraft. Although not the first to build and fly experimental aircraft, the Wright brothers succeeded in developing aircraft controls that made fixed wing flight practicable.
The brothers' fundamental breakthrough was their invention of three-axis control, which enabled the pilot to steer the aircraft effectively and to maintain its equilibrium. This method became standard and remains standard on fixed wing aircraft of all kinds. From the beginning of their aeronautical work, the Wright brothers focused on unlocking the secrets of control to conquer "the flying problem," rather than developing more powerful engines as some other experimenters did. Their careful wind tunnel tests produced better aeronautical data than any before, enabling them to design and build wings and propellers more effective than any before. Their U.S. patent 821,393 claims the invention of a system of aerodynamic control that manipulates a flying machine's surfaces.
They gained the mechanical skills essential for their success by working for years in their shop with printing presses, bicycles, motors, and other machinery. Their work with bicycles in particular influenced their belief that an unstable vehicle like a flying machine could be controlled and balanced with practice.
From 1900 until their first powered flights in late 1903, they conducted extensive glider tests that also developed their skills as pilots. Their bicycle shop employee Charlie Taylor became an important part of the team, building their first aircraft engine in close collaboration with the brothers.
Inevitably a certain amount of inaccuracy and mythology surrounds the story of the Wright brothers' achievements. An aeronautical engineer, Joe Bullmer, studied the facts and claims in depth, and set out to present a more accurate history and to put the developments into proper histroical context in a book published in 2009.
Wilbur was born 1867 and Orville born in 1871 at Dayton, Ohio, the sons of Bishop Milton Wright of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ and his wife Susan Koerner who was from a family of carriage and wagon builders. They also had Reuchlin born 1861, Lorin born 1862 and Katharine born 1874.
1871 April. Family moved to Hawthorne street, Dayton
1877 First interest in flying aroused by a toy helicopter based on a design by Alphonse Penaud
1885 Wilbur aged 18 has a sports accident and sustained injuries to his face and the loss of many of his teeth. The operations that followed caused him a period of depression and he was only rescued from this state two years later when Orville aged 16 asks for his help in building a printing press
1889 Susan Wright, their mother dies
1889 Orville worked for a printer for about one year but then left and went in to the cycle business
1892 They opened their first cycle shop at West Third Street and were soon producing the ‘Wright Special’ at $18
1894 ‘Progress in Flying Machines’ by Octave Chanute published
1896 August. Otto Lilienthal dies in a flying accident near Berlin, Germany in his glider. Author of ‘Birdflight as the Basis for Aviation’ the previous year.
1899 September Percy Pilcher dies in flying accident in his glider
1899 The brothers started an active interest in aviation. In May they write to the Smithsonian Institute asking about publications on flying and were sent copies of the ‘The Aeronautical Journal’ by James Means
1899 July. Wilbur first has the concept of wing warping as a means of controlling roll
1899 Built kite with 5 feet wing span and 195 sq. ft. area to successfully prove the wing warping theory
1900 May. Write to Octave Chanute describing the wing warping and receive an encouraging reply.
1900 They contact the US Weather Bureau to find suitable site for flight trials and decide upon Kitty Hawk in North Carolina. They contact William Tate the local postmaster.
1900 6th September. Wilbur leaves Dayton for Kitty Hawk and arrives seven days later after a difficult journey. He stays with the Tate family.
1900 28th September. Orville arrives at Kitty Hawk
1900 October. Various trials with the kite now of 175 sq. ft. area and 17.5 feet wing span. They include a few person carrying experiments. They go back to Dayton at the end of October.
1901 They build a new glider of 300 sq. ft. weighing 98lbs and with a 22 feet wing span.
1901 7th July. They leave for Kitty Hawk and set up camp at nearby Kill Devil Hills. They start tests as a kite and as a glider.
1901 Early August. Chanute visits them at Kitty Hawk
1901 August. They add a vertical tail to the plane to overcome the problem of adverse yaw when turning.
1901 late August. They return to Dayton where they build a wind tunnel six feet long and sixteen inches square.
1902 New glider has 32 feet wing span, a chord of 5 feet and a double vertical tail of 12 sq. ft. positioned four feet aft.
1902 late August. The arrive at Kitty Hawk to continue their tests
1902 23 September. Orville crashes heavily in the glider but is uninjured
1902 30 September. Lorin Wright arrives to help and observe.
1902 October: Chanute and Augustus Herring arrive to test their triplane but after several flops they leave dispirited on the 11th October.
1902 6th October: Wilbur and Orville change the rudder on their glider to a single moveable type measuring 5 feet by 14 feet and link it with the banking.
1902 October: They carry out some one thousand flights in the month proving the new moveable rudder system. One flight lasts for 26 seconds and several are more than 600 feet in length.
1902 29th December: Wilbur writes to Spratt about his plans for a glider with a 500 feet wing surface.
1902. In France, Ferdinand Ferber is experimenting with the Wright design after corresponding with Chanute who had then sent him details. Samuel Langley had also written to the brothers asking for details.
1903 With their mechanic Charles E. Taylor, they start work on their own 12 hp petrol engine to power the glider as they considered that no existing engine provided the power-to-weight ratio required.
1903 February First tests of the engine are a failure
1903 Langley gets finance for his new engine for his plane named the ‘Aerodrome’ from the US military
1903 The Wright’s new plane has a wing span of 40 feet 4 inches and a 6 feet 6 inch chord.
1903 They design and build their own propeller, considering nothing else suitable. This is 8 feet 6 inches in diameter and two are planned for the plane.
1903 They make their first application to patent the principle of control by wing warping but this is rejected as they have not used an attorney.
1903 23rd August. They leave Dayton heading for Elizabeth City and Kitty Hawk and arrive on the 28th
1903 They commence tests to hover thee new glider in thee wind and Orville achieves 71.8 seconds
1903 4th November. They commence tests with the engine and plane combined but these fail and the shafts are damaged. The following day Spratt leaves for Dayton with the damaged shafts to get replacements.
1903 Early November. Chanute arrives but leaves after a week
1903 20th November. New shafts arrive but later they fail again. Orville leaves on the 30th to get new ones made in spring steel
1903 early December. Langley’s ’Great Aerodrome’ crashes again on its second flight and he decides not to continue with his trials.
1903 9th December. Orville leaves Dayton with the new improved shafts
1903 14th December (Monday). They achieve first ‘flight’ of 3.5 seconds and then crash
1903 17th December (Thursday). The first controlled powered flight by man. Four flights were completed that day with increasing distances each time. Orville flies 120 feet and 12 seconds; Wilbur flies 175 feet and 12 seconds; Orville flies 200 feet and 15 seconds and Wilbur finally manages 852 feet and 59 seconds. The flights are witnessed by John Daniels, Robert Wescott, Thomas Beacham, W. S. Dough, ‘Uncle Benny’ O’Neal plus two small boys and a dog. The plane was launched from a 60 feet track named the ‘Grand Junction’.
1904 The brothers were lent the use of Huffmann Prairie, farmland of 100 acres owned by Torrence Hoffmann close to Simms station on the Dayton, Springfield and Urbane railway.
1904 They design and build a new 4-cylinder engine and install two - one for each propeller - on the Flyer.
1904 March. Ferber experiments near Calais with a glider based on the Wright design.
1904 End May. The new flyer is completed and similar to the previous model but there are problems in flying it. They complete a derrick system with weights (800lb and later 1,400lb) to power launch the flyer.
1904 They decline to take part in the St Louis Fair and the competition for $100,000 for completion of a ten mile circular course around the fairground as they consider it optimised for airships and not planes.
1904 20th September. First completed circle flight witnessed by Amos I. Root
1904 1st December. Orville manages a flight of 5 minutes and 8 seconds and covers 3 miles.
1904 In total they complete 105 flights at Huffmann Prairie during the year
1905 January. They try to interest the US War Department in their flyer but are rebuffed
1905 They are invited to submit a proposal to the UK government but this is then rejected
1905 Ferber makes contact on behalf of the French but these negotiations fail also.
1905 27th May Ferber makes first powered flight in Europe in his aeroplane No. 6 using a 12 hp engine.
1905 June. Due to adverse weather testing this year had to wait until June.
1905 14th July. Orville crashes the flyer and breaks the upper wing.
1905 July. They disconnect the control of the rudder from the wing warping and give it independent control
1905 August. The elevator is increased from 50 to 84 sq. ft. and positioned 12 feet forward. The rudder was increased from 20 to 35 sq. ft.
1905 Early September. Wilbur flies full circuits and the following day completes a figure of eight.
1905 Late September. They make modifications to the Flyer including the wing droop angle (anhedral) and a new set of re-designed propellers.
1905 29th September. In front of a large crowd they complete flights of 30 minutes and include turns and figures of eight.
1905 5th October. Orville flies for 38 minutes and covers 15 miles. This was the last of their flying for a long time.
1906. The brothers decide to work in secret to protect their invention. During 1906 they add more power and upright seating,
1906 22nd May. Patent No. 821,393 granted for the wing warping originally applied for in 1902.
1906 November. Santos Dumont in 14 bis wins prize offered by Ernest Archdeacon for first powered flight over 100 metres in Europe
1907 Spring. Wilbur sails for Europe to visit London, Paris and Berlin. Orville and Charlie Taylor follow later. The ship the flyer to France in a crate.
1907. They receive another rejection from the US Army
1907 Glenn Curtiss sets a record of 136.29 mph.
1907 7th March. Enter agreement with French company La Compagnie de navigation Aerienne for the rights to the Flyer in France
1908 8th January. Henry Farman in a Voisin claims the Deutsch-Archdeacon prize for a one kilometre circuit, completing it in 88 seconds. This is more than two years after the Wright Flyer had done the same in September 1905.
1908 The Aerial Experiment Association chaired by Alexander Graham Bell, and Thomas Selfridge as secretary purchased two engines from Curtiss and soon had aircraft in the air. These planes used moveable tip ailerons to attempt to avoid the Wight patent. Their last aircraft was the ‘Silver Dart’ which flew in late 1908 powered by a 50 hp engine.
1908 Spring. Ferber manages a 770 metre flight in his No. 9 aeroplane powered by a 50 hp motor
1908 May. The Wright Brothers return to Kitty Hawk. Charles W. Furnas joins them and on the 14th May becomes the first passenger in a plane. It was piloted by Wilbur.
1908 May. Wilbur has a serious crash after stalling but survives
1908 28th May. Wilbur arrives in France while Orville remains in the US for the trials for the US Signal Corps
1908 June. Wilbur commences assembly of the Flyer at Le Mans
1908 8th August (Saturday). Wilbur flies for one minute 45 seconds in front of a crowd to great acclaim. Ernest Archdeacon was a critic as the plain used a track to take off from and not wheels but otherwise the French realised that the Wright Brothers had really solved the problems with flight.
1908 20th August. Orville arrives in Fort Myer, Virginia with Charlie Taylor and Charlie Furnas for the US Army tests and was entertained by Albert Zahm.
1908 27th August. Engine tests
1908 1st September. Army tests at Fort Myer formally commence. Curtiss and Selfridge, members of the Aerial Experiment Association, were present at the tests. Curtiss wrote to Bell and was critical of the Flyer.
1908 3rd September. Fight made but make heavy landing on his second circuit
1908 9th September. Orville flies for 57.5 minutes and sets a new record and later that day flew again for more than 62 minutes. Later the same day he took Lahm as a passenger and flew for a record six minutes breaking the previous record set in May.
1908 mid September. Orville sets nine new world records including altitude of 200 feet and later 310 feet plus endurance of 74 minutes
1908 17th September having already flown previously with Frank Purdy Lahm and George Squier, Orville takes Selfridge as a passenger but crashes and Selfridge is killed and Orville is hospitalised for six weeks. The crash is caused by a split in the propeller not being repaired fully. Katharine helped negotiate a one year extension for the trials because of the accident.
1908 October. Herring makes claim that he has a working plane which he flew on 28th October but there were no witnesses and nothing more was heard or seen of it
1908 30th October. Henry Farman makes the first ever cross-country flight from Camp de Chalons to Reims in twenty minutes, a distance of 27 kms.
1908 31st October Orville is discharged from hospital but needed nursing by his sister Katharine at Dayton
1908 December. Grand Palais Aero Show held in Paris. This is the largest show held to date with Clement Ader's ‘Avion’ given the prominent position.
1908 18th December. Wilbur wins the Michelin Cup for the longest flight by completing a two-hour flight of almost 100 kms. He later that day won the Prix de la Hauteur when he flew at more than 350 feet.
1908 31st December. Wilbur sets new endurance record of two hours and twenty minutes
1908 Both brothers were awarded the Legion of Honour by the French government
1908 During the year Orville files a patent for an ‘auto-pilot’
1909 Early January. Wilbur travels to meet Orville and Katharine who have travelled to France. They travel south to Pau to train three French pilots - Paul Tisslandier, Paul Lucas-Girardville and Charles de Lambert. Their training is completed on the 19th March.
1909 End April. The three Wrights leave Rome and call at Le Mans for a farewell. They then travelled to London.
1909 April: Inspecting the new Short Brothers factory at Leysdown; the Wright Brothers had their photograph taken outside Muswell Manor with early aviation pioneers to commemorate their visit to Britain. The Wrights then returned to the USA.
1909 May/June. Celebrations in Dayton on their return. The brothers are awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
1909 28th June. Preparations for trials at Fort Myer
1909 27th July. Start of trials for the US Signal Corps. Orville completes the required one hour flight with Lahm as passenger before an audience that included President Taft.
1909 30th July. Orville completes the first cross-country flight in the US (see Farman’s flight in 1908 for the first ever cross-country flight) with Ben Foulois as passenger. The flight is a return journey to Alexandria five miles away.
1909 July. Louis Bleriot flies across the English Channel, a distance of 38 kms in 37 minutes. His Bleriot XI was powered by an Anzani three-cylinder 25 hp engine and had a wing area of just 150 sq. ft.
1909 ?? Rheims Air Show. The Wright Brothers do not participate but Curtiss wins speed prize at 47.65 mph, Farman the distance prize at 112 miles and Latham wins the one for altitude at 508 feet.
1909 ?? Orville travels to Germany to demonstrate the Flyer. While in Germany he set a new altitude record of 1,600 feet
1909 4th October Wilbur flies over water from Gosvenor’s Island to Grant’s Tomb and was seen by the largest audience to ever see a flight.
1909 22nd November. The Wright Company was incorporated and set up a factory at Dayton and a flying field at Huffmann Prairie
In mid-1910 they introduce the ‘B Flyer’ which does away with the canard, the horizontal flap mounted in front of the pilot and featured an aft horizontal tail. This plane was more stable in pitch and was much easier to fly.
1910 January. US Flying Show at Los Angeles. Louis Paulhan was the only European and when he arrived in the country the Wrights issued him with a writ for patent infringements to stop him flying. They also issued an injunction against Curtiss but he ignored it and carried on flying. Paulhan also ignored his writ and climbed his plane to a record height of 4,165 feet.
1910 17th February. Paulhan is served with an injunction to stop his flying at a series of shows so he packs up and returns to France.
1910 March. The Wright brothers open a flying school at Montgomery, Alabama. The Wright pilots included Arch Hoxsey, Ralph Johnstone and Frank Coffyn. Walter Brookins was one of the trainers. Curtiss also formed a flying school and his pilots included Charles Willard, Charles Hamilton and Beckwith Havens.
1910 Belmont Meeting. Claude Grahame-White takes the prize for reaching 61 mph and John Moisant wins a prize for flying from Belmont Park and around the Statue of Liberty. The Wright Brothers were expected to win the Bennett prize for speed with their scaled down Model B with 21 feet wing span called the ‘Baby Grand’ and fitted with an eight-cylinder engine but engine failure caused them to pull out
1910 At the Overland Park meeting at Denver three Wright pilots took part but Ralph Johnstone reached 800 feet but on his descent the plane broke up and he was killed.
1911 John Moisant is killed when his Bleriot plane crashes near New Orleans.
1911 On the same day as John Moisant, Arch Hoxsey reached 7,000 feet in an attempt on the altitude record but as he glided back his plane flipped and he was killed.
1911 Mid-October. Orville returned to Kill Devil Hills with Alexander Ogilvie for testing. Orville completed a glide of 9 minutes and 45 seconds which was a record that would stand for ten years.
1911 Wright Brothers receive a writ from the family over the death of John Joseph Montgomery claiming the plane design was at fault.
1911 Louis Paulhan wins the challenge to fly from London to Manchester
1911 Glenn Curtiss wins the New York to Albany challenge
1911 Walter Brookins, a Wright pilot, flies from Chicago to Springfield, Illinois, a distance of 192 miles
1911 17th September. Calbraith Rodgers, a Wright trained pilot, flies from coast to coast in a specially built Wright EX with a 32 feet wing span and a top speed of 55 mph. After five accidents, including a broken ankle, he completed it on 10th December after 84 days.
1912 Spring. Cal Rodgers returns to Long Beach and in front of a large crowd he crashes and is killed when a bird becomes jammed in his rudder.
1912 29th May. Wilbur dies at Dayton of typhoid fever aged 45 years, He had spent the last two years of his life in endless legal battles to attempt to protect the patents. He had not flown in this time. Orville blamed the legal wrangles for his death and in particular the disputes with Glenn Curtiss.
1912 Orville takes over as President of the Wright Company
1912 June. Arthur Welsh, a Wright staff pilot, and his passenger Leighton Hazelhurst were killed when they crashed in to the ground at College Park, Maryland
1912 September. Lewis Rockwell and passenger Frank Scoot were killed when their Model B crashed.
1912 September. Opened a water flying school at the Glenwood Country Club, Long Island and Charles Wald was put in charge. The plane was a modified ‘Model B’ which was known as B-9 or Hydroaeroplane. The first flight was on 9th September and lasted for 35 minutes.
1912 21st September. Wald flies the nine miles to New Rochelle Harbor and back on the following day. In the following days he carried passengers including J. C. Jackson, C. G. Goddard and Marion G. Peck, a local reporter.
1912 Mid-October. The water flying school was closed as their was little interest
1913 February. Orville and Katharine go to London to finalise the setting up of the Wright Company in the UK. They then visit Germany before returning home arriving back at Easter where severe floods had affected Dayton
1913 July. Loren Call was killed in his Model B at Fort Sam, Houston
1913 4th September. Moss Love killed when his Model C turned over and crashed.
1913 November. Perry C. Rich killed in the Philippines when his Model C dived in the sea
1913 November. Hugh Kelly and instructor Eric Ellington die when their Model C crashes at San Diego
1913 31st December. Orville demonstrates his 'auto-pilot' at Huffmann Prairie before the Aero Club of America with one flight completing seven circuits with no adjustment to the controls. Orville’s design was based on a pendulum and quickly superseded by the Sperry gyroscopic method.
1914 9th February. Harry Post established the altitude record of more than 12,000 feet in his Model C at San Diego, loses control on the descent and is killed in the crash. The army’s inquirey condemned the plane as the elevators were too weak.
1915 October. Orville sells the Wright Company but was retained as Consulting Engineer
1917 Bishop Wright dies
1917 The Dayton-Wright Airplane Company formed
1918 May. Orville flies for the last time. This is a demonstration flight of the 1911 model alongside a DH-4 plane.
1925 "The historic aeroplane with its small home-made four-cylinder petrol engine on which Wilbur and Orville Wright in the autumn of 1903 made their first power-driven flight at Kitty Hawk, South Carolina, is, it seems, now lying at Dayton, Ohio, packed in crates ready for shipment to the Science Museum at South Kensington. Mr. Orville Wright, it is reported, has expressed his regret at having to send the machine to a museum outside his own country. His decision to do so has been dictated by the action of the Smithsonian Institute at Washington, which in 1914 allowed the Langley " Aerodrome " entrusted to its care to be taken away, modernised and modified and otherwise made to fly with the object, so it said, of proving that Samuel Langley had anticipated the Wrights' invention and of providing evidence for a law suit attacking the validity of the original Wright patents. Mr Wright refuses to allow any museum discretion to make alterations in his machine, and adds that if half the changes permitted in the Langley aeroplane were allowed in the Kitty Hawk machine it could easily be proved that his aeroplane was not capable of sustained free flight. The Smithsonian Institute has defended its action in permitting the alterations to and experiments with the Langley machine on the ground that it was not a historical relic, but was received from the War Department for the purposes of experiment. There can, of course, be little doubt that no such treatment of a pioneer device of whatever nature and however received would be permitted by any museum authority in this country." 
1926 20 November. Katharine marries Henry J. Haskell, an associate editor of the Kansas City Star much to Orville’s displeasure
1929 3rd March. Katharine dies of pneumonia in Kansas City
1938. The original Third West Street cycle shop was dismantled and moved to Greenfield Village at Dearbon
1942 the Smithsonian finally admits that the Wright brothers were the first in powered flight, having up to this time maintained that the honour belonged to Langley
1948 Orville dies from heart problems