The Wright brothers
Wilbur and Orville
1867 - 1912 : 1871 - 1948

Wright brothers--Wilbur (1867-1912) and Orville (1871-1948)--invented and built the first successful airplane. On Dec. 17, 1903, they made the world's first flight in a power-driven, heavier-than-air machine near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. With Orville at the controls, the plane flew 120 feet and was in the air 12 seconds. The brothers made three more flights that day. The longest, by Wilbur, was 852 feet in 59 seconds.

Besides the Wrights, four men and one boy witnessed the flights. One of the men snapped a picture of the plane just as Orville piloted it into the air. Only a few newspapers mentioned the event, and their stories were inaccurate. The Wrights continued to fly from a pasture near their hometown of Dayton, Ohio, but local newspapers remained uninterested. The Wrights issued a statement about their achievement to the press in January 1904. It received little attention. Octave Chanute, an American civil engineer, reported their success in an article appearing in the March 1904 issue of Popular Science Monthly. The first eyewitness report of a flight by the Wrights appeared in a magazine called Gleanings in Bee Culture in January 1905.

Despite some factual and accurate stories, the Wrights' achievement was practically unknown for five years. Most people at that time remained doubtful about flying machines. In any case, the Wrights preferred to work quietly, perfecting their airplane and developing flight technique. They believed that airplanes would eventually be used to transport passengers and mail. They also hoped airplanes might serve to prevent war.

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