History was being made in their bicycle shop and in their home, but the making was so obscured by the commonplace, I did not recognize it until many years later.—Milton Wright
Yesterday I wrote about how the world needs more of Tracy. You know what else it needs? More Wright brothers. And while we're at it, more David McCulloughs. I've been a bit weighed down as of late, as are many, by world events, the economy, the stresses of everyday life. I've also been spending too much time at Walmart. You can't beat the prices, but that place has a tendency to suck the joy right out of a person. So it would not be a stretch to say I needed The Wright Brothers right now. And boy did they deliver.
Wilbur and Orville Wright are the epitome of the underdog. Not only did they conquer the quest for flight, but they did it with "no college education, no formal technical training,...no friends in high places, no financial backers, no government subsidies, and little money of their own, [and despite] the entirely real possibility, that at some point...they could be killed." Orville would interject here and say, "But it isn't true, to say we had no special advantages. The greatest things in our favor was growing up in a family where there was always much encouragement to intellectual curiosity."
Wilbur Wright would wholeheartedly concur with that assessment, once saying himself: "If I were giving a young man advice as to how he might succeed in life, I would say to him, pick out a good father and mother, and begin life in Ohio." And be an avid reader. Their father, a traveling preacher, was a "life-long lover of books" and "heartily championed the limitless value of reading." They may have been a family of modest means, but their book collection was far from modest. Bishop Wright wasn't a huge fan of public education, and never minded his children missing school here and there to do something he found worthy, "and certainly he ranked reading as worthy."
For years, few took notice of the miraculous events transpiring in the Wright's home and bicycle shop in Dayton, Ohio, and on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and of those who did, most were naysayers. At the heart of this well-told story is a close knit family that endured years of mockery, scrutiny, indifference, and accusations of lying about or, at the very least, embellishing, their successes in the endeavor of flight. Buoyed by their faithful father, the lessons of their late mother, and the unwavering and indisputably essential support of their sister, Katharine, the Wright brothers never faltered nor lost faith in their abilities.
Nor did they cave to public pressure, once cancelling a scheduled flight in front of 4,000 spectators—including members of congress who had ended their session early in order to attend. As reported in the Washington Herald: "No one with a keen sense of dramatic effect could have created a better scene to demonstrate the utter immunity of the two brothers from the fumes of importunity and the intoxication of an august assemblage." One senator said upon exiting the scene, "I'm damned if I don't admire their independence. We don't mean anything to them, and there are a whole lot of reasons why we shouldn't."
Read this book. Give everyone you know this book. And if you're a fan of listening, David McCullough narrates it himself, and his grandfatherly voice will soothe your soul as much as his well-written, timely tale. As was written in a Dayton newspaper upon the Wrights receiving their overdue accolades, "[this story] points out to the ambitious young man [or woman] that he labors not in vain, that genius knows no class, no condition. The modesty of the Wright brothers is the source of a good deal of comment, but above all, there is a sermon in their life of endeavor which cannot be preached too often."