Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Russell Freedman traces the journey taken by the Wright brothers as they ushered in modern aviation. The Wright Brothers: How They Invented the Airplane examines the brothers’ early lives and their careers as printers, newspaper publishers, bicycle mechanics, and pioneer aviators. The book begins with an eyewitness account of the historic flight in Dayton, Ohio, 1904, marking the first time that a plane made a complete circle during flight. The story then shifts back to a third-person account of the Wrights’ childhood, growing up years, and adulthood.

Most of the chapters deal with the Wright brothers as adults and their contributions to aviation. Orville and Wilbur’s partnership is explored. As Wilbur is quoted, “From the time we were little children, my brother Orville and myself lived together, played together, worked together and, in fact, thought together.” The brothers shared the inventing, mechanical, designing, and piloting responsibilities equally. Spurred by reading newspaper accounts of gliding and flying experiments, Wilbur Wright wrote to the Smithsonian Institution and asked for information about flight experiments. Using this information and their mechanical knowledge, the brothers started to draw plans for a flying machine. They flew successful gliders, then graduated to powered flight.

The historic 1903 flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, is detailed, as well as the brothers’ vast contributions to aviation. Their invention process is explored. The brothers experienced many setbacks and frustrations. Unfavorable weather conditions, mechanical failures, and design problems sent them back to the drawing board in order to perfect the airplane. When they did succeed, they continued to improve their plane and to record longer flight times and distances. By 1908, Wilbur and Orville Wright were publicly demonstrating the airplane in Europe and the United States. Both men remained active in the field until their deaths.

Freedman provides an index, information on places to visit, and a list of further reading. The book is illustrated with ninety-four black-and-white photographs taken by the Wright brothers, plus their drawings and plans and family photographs. The airplane has been called the first major invention documented by photography. Wilbur and Orville Wright were very aware of the historical significance of the airplane, and they wished to leave a detailed record of their work. Always partners, the brothers took turns flying and taking photographs, which vividly illustrate the Wright brothers’ lifework.