New Book Says Wilbur Wright Pretty Much Worked Alone

Orville Wright (left; Wilbur at right) maintained control of the brothers’ papers about the first flight. Library of Congress

It wasn’t that long ago that theories circulated about whether or not the Wright Brothers were actually the first people to leave the earth successfully aboard a powered flying machine of their own creation. Now, a new book says most of the work of the partner brothers was actually the effort of just one, Wilbur Wright.

In the Prometheus Books volume, Wright Brothers, Wrong Story, author William Hazelgrove says while conducting researching for the story, he "came across a new narrative that counters the defining assumption: that Orville and Wilbur jointly produced The Flyer. That makes for the ultimate teamwork epic — but the Wrights' saga is actually the story of Wilbur."

An article in this month's Smithsonian magazine explains there's considerable proof that Wilbur is the person who contacted Samuel Pierpoint Langley, the Secretary of the Smithsonian, in 1896 "requesting information about human attempts at mechanized flight." Wilbur alone contacted the United States Weather Service and also penned some 500 letters to renowned aeronautical scientist Octave Chanute that ended up producing Wilbur's breakthrough ideas. Wilbur built the first box-wing kite and the first glider used to eventually create The Flyer according to Hazelgrove. He added that Wilbur made hundreds of attempts at flight by the time Orville attempted the very first flight in 1902.

“Wilbur Wright was the man who really invented controlled flight, though it is nearly heretical to say so,” Hazelgrove said. “Orville, though a gifted mechanic, never had the genius to make the leap from theory to application. Wilbur possessed the imaginative intuition that transformed a crude wooden propeller into an instrument that vaulted humans into a new era.”

Wilbur Wright died in 1912, while Orville lived until 1948. According to Hazelgrove, Orville was in charge of the papers and approved every page of a 1943 book by Fred C. Kelly that chronicled the dawn of flight called, The Wright Brothers: A Biography Authorized by Orville Wright. Hazelgrove says, "The book is ultimately Orville's version of events, which was that the brothers deserved equal credit for the invention of the airplane."

Rob MarkAuthor
Rob Mark is an award-winning journalist, business jet pilot, flight instructor, and blogger.

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