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Wright Bros.

Orville and Wilbur Wright (1871-1948, 1867-1912)

The Airplane

One day in 1903, a man walked into a restaurant in Norfolk, Va. and asked for a barrel of oysters.

"What for?" the restaurant manager asked.

"There are two loony Yankees down at Kitty Hawk trying to learn to fly," the man replied. "And they want to eat some lynnhaven oysters before they try this daredevil stunt."

The Wright brothers, two of America's most celebrated inventors, survived that flight, and many others. The two men were a curious pair of inventors -- both had a great appetite for reading and an intense curiosity for how things worked. In fact, Orville's housekeeper insisted on using an old-fashioned ice box instead of a modern refrigerator. "He'd only take it apart," she said.

The Wright brothers learned about flight by watching buzzards. They also read many books on aeronautics, the mechanics of flight. Unfortunately, many of these books contained faulty information, which meant that most of what the Wrights learned came by trial and error.

On December 17, 1903, Orville and Wilbur announced that they would attempt to fly the world's first airplane: The Wright Flyer. The public and the news media, however, were skeptical. Only five people braved the sandy winds of Kitty Hawk, N.C., that day to witness history.

As the small crowd watched, Orville took the Flyer into the air for 12 seconds. The public was still skeptical, but three years later, the Wrights obtained a patent for their flying machine, taking a huge step toward bringing the far corners of the world within everyone's reach.

[May 1996]

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