When you think of the Wright Brothers don’t you automatically think flight? They invented the first power-driven airplane. Most know they had a bicycle shop before they became famous for flight. But few know they owned a print shop before the bicycle shop.
Wright Bros Owned a Print Shop
In 1889, at the age of 18 Orville quit his last year of high school to go into business with his older brother Wilbur, also a high school dropout. This was their first of 3 careers: printing, bicycles, and aviation.
The Wright Brothers Went From Printers to Pilots
I’d like to add a consistent theme of entrepreneurs dropping out of education. Their father, a minister, inspired in them a love of mechanics at a young age. He bought them mechanical souvenirs he found on his travels as a church leader. They also learned printing from him. He edited a religious newspaper. Using their mechanical skills they built their own printing press from parts of a buggy and other discarded items.
Besides miscellaneous print jobs, advertising, and books, they edited, and published a weekly newspaper while it turned into a daily. At that time they were known as Wright and Wright. You cant go ‘wrong’ with that!
Three years later the print shop was slowly phased out to make room for their interest: bicycles. For a time, the Wright Cycle Company advertised in a weekly magazine they printed. The brothers lived in Dayton, Ohio. That’s where they did their flight research by experimenting first with gliders. Because they lived in Ohio you’d think the first flight would have taken place there. Why didn’t it? It was because there wasn’t enough wind for their experiments.
Wilbur contacted the U.S. Weather Bureau for windy regions. They suggested a remote sandy area off the coast of North Carolina. After 3 years of constructing various parts of their airplane in Dayton and traveling to Kity Hawk to assemble and test their machine, they finally met success on December 14, 1903.
The first recorded flight lasted 12 seconds at a distance of 120 feet. Three years after his famous brother died in 1912 (of typhoid), Orville was happy to sell the Wright Company. He disdained the business side of aviation and especially the many legal battles success had brought. He was happy to get back to designing and experimenting with other ideas. He continued to serve, however, on various aviation boards and commissions. One such was NACA, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the predecessor of NASA.
Orville stayed active in the printing as well. In 1930 he designed and built a printing press for the Miami Wood Specialty Company. His interest in printing stayed with him his entire life. Printing has been a part of most of my adult life and like Orville there is a passion that can’t be extinguished. I’m just not sure if I’ll go from printers to being a pilot.