“It wasn’t luck that made them fly; it was hard work and common sense; they put their whole heart and soul and all their energy into an idea and they had the faith.”
So states John T. Daniels, a member of the Kill Devil Life Saving Station, and one of seven people to witness the Wright Brothers first flight. Daniels is also credited as the person who captured the event on camera, one of the most famous photographs of all time (above).
I first became intrigued by the Wright Brothers story while visiting the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum this summer. While walking around the Wright Brothers exhibit, I asked my wife, who works at a library, if she was aware of any books about the Wright Brothers. She mentioned the book by David McCullough, so I added it to my reading list, and finally had a chance to read it this past week.
And I give it two big thumbs up. It is a testament to the power of persistence and imagination.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway I have from the book is the incredible work ethic of Wilbur and Orville possessed an incredible work ethic. In addition to the quote above from Daniels, here are some additional passages reflecting this ethic:
“...life on the Outer Banks back then was quite harsh, and hard workers were greatly admired. Daniels also noted that “… when they worked, they worked… They had their whole heart and soul in what they were doing.”
“…the brothers had tremendous energy, and working hard every day but Sunday was a way of life, and if not on the job then at home on “improvements”. Hard work was a conviction, and they were at their best and happiest working together on their own projects at the same waist-high bench, wearing shop aprons to protect their suits and ties.”
(I found it fascinating that the brothers seemed to wear their suits for every occasion, working, flying, dinner, etc. How the times have changed…)
One writer described Wilbur as, “driven by a will of iron which animates him and drives him in his work.”
And a fellow aviator stated that “Wilbur Wright is the best example of strength of character that I have ever seen.”
It is also amazing to think of what the brothers accomplished given that there was nothing in their background to suggest that they could, or would, achieve the success that they did.
The brothers had “.. no college education, no formal training, no experience working with anyone other than themselves, no friends in high places, no financial backers, no government subsidies, and little money of their own.”
(Plus their experiments came with significant risk to life and limb, and in acknowledgment of such risks they never flew together while experimenting, so that if one of them died, the other could carry on their work.)
I was also impressed with the value that the Wright Brothers’ father placed on reading. McCullough states that
“The Wright family book collection, however, was neither modest nor commonplace. Bishop Wright, a lifelong lover of books, heartily championed the limitless value of reading.”
He goes on to add that Bishop Wright seemed to place more value on an informal education at home versus a formal education at school.
The brothers were also quite humble, and one of my favorite lines is when Orville responds to a friend who claimed that the brothers were a testament to how far Americans with no special advantages could advance in the world.
Orville’s reply, “But it isn’t true to say that we had no special advantages… the greatest thing in our favor was growing up in a family where there was always much encouragement to intellectual curiosity.”
So when all is said and done, the book offers a fairly simple blueprint for success:
- hard work
- intellectual curiosity, along with a love of reading
- commitment to, and belief, in your goals
An amazing story, well researched, and told brilliantly by one of our best writers. Highly recommended.
I can’t wait for the movie…