Wilbur Wright Working in the Bicycle Shop


This 1897 photograph shows Wilbur Wright (1867–1912) at work in the bicycle shop in Dayton, Ohio, which he ran with his brother Orville (1871–1948). After starting a printing business and a weekly newspaper, in 1892 the brothers opened the shop to rent, sell, and eventually manufacture bicycles. Neither brother had education beyond high school, but they became fascinated by the possibilities of human flight and read and studied all they could about aerodynamics. Having concluded that all published tables on air pressures on curved surfaces were wrong, they built their own wind tunnel in their shop, where they tested more than 200 wing models. After experimenting with gliders in 1902–3, they succeeded in making the first powered, controlled, and sustained flight of a heavier-than-air machine, in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on December 17, 1903. The mechanical skills honed in the bicycle shop served the brothers well; they built the airplane flown at Kitty Hawk and its light-weight gasoline engine themselves, spending less than $1,000. The brothers abandoned their bicycle business in 1909 and formed an aviation company, of which Wilbur was president until he died of typhoid fever at age 45.

Last updated: July 16, 2013