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Wright Brothers reached adulthood during a lingering depression, when work was scarce.
Consequently, they decided to make their own, first as printers, then newspapermen, then
as printers again. They began to ride bicycles for pleasure and became bicycle repairmen,
later, bicycle builders. To many folks outside the family, it seemed as if they were
But a common thread ran through their early endeavors. Throughout these early
businesses, they worked side by side on mechanical things -- printing presses and
bicycles. They even built their own internal combustion engine to run the power tools in
their bicycle shop. They were also very athletic. They took long bicycle rides in the
country; Orville even won a few bicycle races. If they were wandering, they were
wandering with a purpose. They were pursuing their own intellectual interests, as they had
been brought up to do. The mechanical skills and athletic endurance that they gleaned
would serve them well when they began to experiment with flying machines. Most important,
they forged themselves into an efficient, creative team.
- 1886 to 1889
Orville teaches himself
the printing trade, then drops out of high school to start a printing business. His
brother Wilbur helps Orville build his first press.
1889 to 1890
Wilbur into the business as a partner. Together, they build a second, larger
press and make a reputation for themselves not just as printers, but as press mechanics.
- 1890 to 1892
The brothers start
several newspapers -- West Side News, The Evening Item, and The Tattler.
The last is a venture with an old high school friend, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and is
meant to serve the Afro-American community in Dayton, Ohio. But the Wrights can't compete
with more established journals, and none of the papers survive. They continue as job
- 1892 to 1896 Wilbur and Orville
join a bicycling club, and begin repairing bicycles for friends. They open a bicycle
repair business, then begin selling bicycles. Eventually, they manufacture their own line
of hand-built bicycles. The bicycle business does very well for the Wright brothers, and
affords them the extra income they need to pursue another interest.
1896 As devoted
and Orville are aware of the need to balance their bikes as they ride. In a flash of
insight, they realize that balance is also the key to flying an airplane. They begin to
read everything they can find on the subject of aviation.
Note: You may also want to consult the
The West Side News, published by the Wright Brothers from
1889 to 1890.
A "Van Cleve" safety bicycle, hand-built by the Wrights.
Otto Lilienthal flying a glider in Germany just before his death in
1896. The Wrights followed his career avidly.