Thursday, May 04, 2006

Flashes from the Past: "He was a prankster and he didn't take school seriously..."

As a boy, he loved pranks, but didn't take school seriously until high school. It was said that he was "pathologically shy" outside his family, but he was quite talkative and social at home.

He was fortunate to have a rich intellectual homelife - "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."

His mother was mechanically minded and she often made simple household appliances and toys for children at home (her father had worked in a carriage shop), and his father liked challenging his children "intellectually" at home.

In high school, this fellow finally started getting interested in subjects, and in fact elected to do some college-level work- but when he found out he wouldn't be able to graduate within the term, he quit school all together. His brother did, too.

Did you guess who this was? This was Orville Wright.

We enjoyed the Wright brothers exhibit at the National Space and Air Museum - lots of details like how the brothers got interested in flight after their father had brought home a rubber band-powered helicopter toy, and the original letter that Wilbur had written to the Smithsonian asking for information about the new science of aerodynamics. There's many hands-on exhibits to see how new materials felt and handled differently, and how changes in design changed how things improved the movement and control of the first plane.



The Wrights had many ingredients of the right stuff - a recognition of the different personality and intellectual strengths of the two partners, a habit of vigorously arguing ideas, and lots of practice at prototyping. It was neat to see that the boys got their first practice with prototyping making several versions of the simple helicopter toy. When Orville quit school, he had left to help his brother starting a printing press that had been made out of recycled buggy parts and a damaged tombstone. It was no accident that Wilbur discovered his idea for the wing warp when fiddling with a box. That fiddling, fidgeting with materials, and diagramming is often more important than we think.

Wright Brothers
More Wright Brothers Bio

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