Biography of Wilbur Wright, Aviation Pioneer

One-Half of the Aviation-Pioneering Duo The Wright Brothers

Wilbur Wright in His Airplane
Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

Wilbur Wright (1867-1912) was one half of the aviation pioneering duo known as the Wright Brothers. Together with his brother Orville Wright, Wilbur Wright invented the first airplane to make the first manned and powered flight possible.

Wilbur Wright's Early Life

Wilbur Wright was born on April 16, 1867, in Millville, Indiana. He was the third child of Bishop Milton Wright and Susan Wright. After his birth, the family moved to Dayton, Ohio. Bishop Wright has in the habit of bringing his sons souvenirs from his church travels. One such souvenir was a whirling top toy, that sparked the Wright Brothers' lifelong interest in flying machines. In 1884, Wilbur completed high school and the next year he attended special classes in Greek and trigonometry, however, a hockey accident and his mother's illness and death kept Wilbur Wright from finishing his college education.

The Wright Brothers' Early Career Ventures 

On March 1, 1889, Orville Wright began publishing the short-lived West Side News, a weekly newspaper for West Dayton. Wilbur Wright was the editor and Orville was the printer and publisher. All his life, Wilbur Wright teamed with his brother Orville to develop various businesses and enterprises. Among the Wright Brothers' various enterprises were a printing firm and a bicycle shop. Both of these ventures showcased their mechanical aptitude, business sense, and originality.

The Pursuit of Flight

Wilbur Wright was inspired by the work of German glider Otto Lilienthal, which led to his desire to fly and his belief that manned flight was possible. Wilbur Wright read everything available on the then-new science of aviation—including all the Smithsonian's technical papers on aviation—to study the projects of other aviators. Wilbur Wright thought of a novel solution to the problem of flight, which he described as "a simple system that twisted, or warped the wings of a biplane, causing it to roll right and left." Wilbur Wright made history with the first-ever heavier-than-air, manned, powered flight in 1903.

Wilbur Wright's Writings

In 1901, Wilbur Wright's article, "Angle of Incidence," was published in the Aeronautical Journal, and "Die Wagerechte Lage Wahrend des Gleitfluges," was published in Ilustrierte Aeronautische Mitteilungen. These were the Wright Brothers' first published writings on aviation. The same year, Wilbur Wright gave a speech to the Western Society of Engineers on the Wright Brothers' gliding experiments.

The Wrights' First Flight

On December 17, 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright made the first free, controlled, and sustained flights in a power-driven, heavier-than-air machine. The first flight was piloted by Orville Wright at 10:35 a.m., the plane stayed twelve seconds in the air and flew 120 feet. Wilbur Wright piloted the longest flight that day in the fourth test, fifty-nine seconds in the air and 852 feet.

Wilbur Wright's Death

In 1912 Wilbur Wright died after suffering from typhoid fever.

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Bellis, Mary. "Biography of Wilbur Wright, Aviation Pioneer." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Bellis, Mary. (2020, August 27). Biography of Wilbur Wright, Aviation Pioneer. Retrieved from Bellis, Mary. "Biography of Wilbur Wright, Aviation Pioneer." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 28, 2023).