Book Review: The Wright Brothers

The Wright Brothers: Pioneers of American Aviation, by Quentin Reynolds, 1950, Random House

I’ve loved almost all the Random House Landmark books I’ve read but this is one of my favorites. What sets this book apart from the dozens of books about these brothers and their amazing invention? This one begins with their mother, and how she influenced their appetite for learning, their work and their lives.

Susan Wright was the daughter of a carriage maker. Growing up in her father’s workshop she had learned to design and build things. It was she who taught the boys to notice how things worked, how to draw out plans for things before building them, and how to use tools. She taught them about wind resistance when they were designing and building a sled together.

As Orville tells it: “We were lucky enough to grow up in an environment where there was always much encouragement to children to pursue intellectual interests; to investigate whatever aroused curiosity. In a different kind of environment, our curiosity might have been nipped long before it could have borne fruit.” – Orville Wright

That’s the kind of mother she was, and though she died when they were teenagers, the foundation of their lives was laid.

“In a different kind of environment, our curiosity might have been nipped long before it could have borne fruit.” – Orville Wright

Another thing that makes this book interesting is the way it illustrates how one project or invention led to another. First it was building a sled. Then they built a rudder to steer it. When the snow melted they built a wagon using wheels from discarded tricycles. Next they built and flew kites. Next, a chair for their mother.

When it became Will’s job to fold copies of the newspaper their father edited and their church published, they invented a machine to fold the newspapers. Next was a toy helicopter, then a printing press. Since a printing press is useless without something to print they began a newspaper, The West Side Tatler.  They sold advertising and saved all their profits. Then they needed bicycles to deliver the papers, so they built them out of discarded bicycle parts. They became more interested in building bicycles than writing and selling newspapers so they opened a bicycle shop.

You can see where this is going. It’s a good lesson for us mothers on how children’s interests, when nurtured in the right kind of environment and with the guidance and encouragement of an understanding parent, can lead those children into successful careers.

I love the way this book shows that this invention of theirs, which changed the world and the future of everyone in it, was something that grew out of the skills and interests and habits learned within the context of their family.