XI. THE WRIGHT BROTHERS
Such information as is given here concerning the Wright Brothers is derived from the two best sources available, namely, the writings of Wilbur Wright himself, and a lecture given by Dr Griffith Brewer to members of the Royal Aeronautical Society. There is no doubt that so far as actual work in connection with aviation accomplished by the two brothers is concerned, Wilbur Wright's own statements are the clearest and best available. Apparently Wilbur was, from the beginning, the historian of the pair, though he himself would have been the last to attempt to detract in any way from the fame that his brother's work also deserves. Throughout all their experiments the two were inseparable, and their work is one indivisible whole; in fact, in every department of that work, it is impossible to say where Orville leaves off and where Wilbur begins.
It is a great story, this of the Wright Brothers, and one worth all the detail that can be spared it. It begins on the 16th April, 1867, when Wilbur Wright was born within eight miles of Newcastle, Indiana. Before Orville's birth on the 19th August, 1871, the Wright family had moved to Dayton, Ohio, and settled on what is known as the 'West Side' of the town. Here the brothers grew up, and, when Orville was still a boy in his teens, he started a printing business, which, as Griffith Brewer remarks, was only limited by the smallness of his machine and small quantity of type at his disposal. This machine was in such a state that pieces of string and wood were incorporated in it by way of repair, but on it Orville managed to print a boys' paper which gained considerable popularity in Dayton 'West Side.' Later, at the age of seventeen, he obtained a more efficient outfit, with which he launched a weekly newspaper, four pages in size, entitled The West Side News. After three months' running the paper was increased in size and Wilbur came into the enterprise as editor, Orville remaining publisher. In 1894 the two brothers began the publication of a weekly magazine, Snap-Shots, to which Wilbur contributed a series of articles on local affairs that gave evidence of the incisive and often sarcastic manner in which he was able to express himself throughout his life. Dr Griffith Brewer describes him as a fearless critic, who wrote on matters of local interest in a kindly but vigorous manner, which did much to maintain the healthy public municipal life of Dayton.
Editorial and publishing enterprise was succeeded by the formation, just across the road from the printing works, of the Wright Cycle Company, where the two brothers launched out as cycle manufacturers with the 'Van Cleve' bicycle, a machine of great local repute for excellence of construction, and one which won for itself a reputation that lasted long after it had ceased to be manufactured. The name of the machine was that of an ancestor of the brothers, Catherine Van Cleve, who was one of the first settlers at Dayton, landing there from the River Miami on April 1st, 1796, when the country was virgin forest.
It was not until 1896 that the mechanical genius which characterised the two brothers was turned to the consideration of aeronautics. In that year they took up the problem thoroughly, studying all the aeronautical information then in print. Lilienthal's writings formed one basis for their studies, and the work of Langley assisted in establishing in them a confidence in the possibility of a solution to the problems of mechanical flight. In 1909, at the banquet given by the Royal Aero Club to the Wright Brothers on their return to America, after the series of demonstration flights carried out by Wilbur Wright on the Continent, Wilbur paid tribute to the great pioneer work of Stringfellow, whose studies and achievements influenced his own and Orville's early work. He pointed out how Stringfellow devised an aeroplane having two propellers and vertical and horizontal steering, and gave due place to this early pioneer of mechanical flight.
Neither of the brothers was content with mere study of the work of others. They collected all the theory available in the books published up to that time, and then built man-carrying gliders with which to test the data of Lilienthal and such other authorities as they had consulted. For two years they conducted outdoor experiments in order to test the truth or otherwise of what were enunciated as the principles of flight; after this they turned to laboratory experiments, constructing a wind tunnel in which they made thousands of tests with models of various forms of curved planes. From their experiments they tabulated thousands of readings, which Griffith Brewer remarks as giving results equally efficient with those of the elaborate tables prepared by learned institutions.