Popular history of the Wright Brothers’ early success.
Tise (History/East Carolina Univ.; Hidden Images: Discovering Details in the Wright Brothers' Kitty Hawk Photographs, 1900–1911, 2005) hones in on one aspect of Wilbur and Orville’s famous story. The secretive bike manufacturers of Dayton, Ohio, chose Kitty Hawk, on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, to test their gliding contraptions because of its exceptional winds, soft sand for crash landings and remoteness from prying eyes. From light gliders they moved to a 750-pound gasoline-driven powered flyer, and in 1903 became “the first men on earth to control a powered flying machine across an expanse of level ground at least a few feet above the sandy surface.” By October 1905, in Dayton, they had succeeded in extending the small jumps to a historic 39.5 minutes over a course of 24 miles. However, they stopped flying in 1905 in order to perfect their invention, sell the idea to the competing military powers of the day and take measures to protect their proprietary knowledge. As part of the sell, they had to demonstrate their flying prowess, and by the spring of 1908 they were back in Kitty Hawk assembling their modified biplane. This time, the world’s press got wind and descended on the small spit of land, hiding in the shrubbery and picking up the yarns spun by the excitable locals from the lifesaving club as well as tales by the station operator of the nearby U.S. Weather Bureau. “The stories were so absurd that the Wrights, when they read them, could only laugh at the wild exaggerations,” writes Tise. Nonetheless, over those ten days in May their unprecedented exploits would be broadcast to the world. Taking a conversational, personal tone, the author eschews even cursory examination of the technology for a folksy approach, which reveals many intriguing anecdotes but offers little lasting insight.
A lightweight look at an earth-changing moment.