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are a few little known (but fascinating) facts about the Wright brothers:
The Wright brothers received awards on three separate occasions.
Congressional Medal of Honor, awarded June 17,
After the Wrights had returned home from a triumphant tour of Europe, they
were awarded this medal during the Wright Brothers' Home Days
Celebration on June 17 and 18, 1909. They also received gold medals
from the State of Ohio and the City of Dayton.
Legion of Honor, awarded June 20, 1909.
Created by Napoleon Bonaparte, the French Legion of Honor is an order of
merit given to individuals without regard to birth or religion, provided
they swear to uphold the values of liberty and equality. Orville, Wilbur,
and Katharine Wright were so honored after their successful aviation
demonstrations in 1908 and 1909.
- Collier Trophy, awarded February 3, 1914.
Established in 1911 by Robert Collier, the Collier Trophy was presented
annually for the most significant contribution to aeronautics. Glenn
Curtiss won the trophy for the years 1911 and 1912, and Orville Wright won
it for 1913 for the Wrights' automatic stabilization system, the
forerunner of the automatic pilot.
Orville Wright was active in the promotion of scouting and sat on the Dan
Beard Council of the Boy Scouts of America. He was the scouting advisor
for the Aviation Merit Badge. (Who better?)
Orville Wright survived eight major crashes:
- While flying a glider at Kitty Hawk, NC on 23 September 1902.
- While flying the 1904 Wright Flyer II at Huffman Prairie near
Dayton, OH on 24 August 1904.
- While flying the 1904 Wright Flyer II at Huffman Prairie on 1
- While flying the 1905 Wright Flyer III at Huffman Prairie on 14
- While flying a Wright Model A at Fort Myer, VA on 17 September
1908. This was by far his worst accident; breaking his leg and
killing his passenger, Lt. Thomas Selfridge.
- While flying the Wright Military Flyer at Fort Myer, VA a year
later on 2 July 1909.
- While flying the 1911 Wright Glider at Kitty Hawk, NC on 18
October 1911. It was during this trip that Orville set the first
soaring record, staying aloft for nearly 10 minutes.
- While flying the 1911 Wright Glider at Kitty Hawk, NC on 23
October 1911. Both crashes occur when the glider is upset while
flying in a high wind.
Wilbur also experienced many crashes, most of them minor. His most
serious crash was on 14 May 1908 when he lost control of the 1905 Wright
Flyer III (reconfigured as a Wright Model A) while testing a new engine,
a new control system, and upright seating at Kitty Hawk, NC. The
airplane was damaged beyond repair and never flew again, but Wilbur was
Neither Wilbur or Orville Wright received a high school diploma. Wilbur
completed his senior year at Richmond High School in Indiana with good
grades (about a 95 average), but did not apply for a diploma. The Wright
family moved to Dayton, Ohio before commencement and Wilbur never went
back to claim his certificate. Orville started a printing business when he
was 15 years old and was running a weekly newspaper by his junior year of
high school. His grades were mediocre (except for the sciences) and he had
obviously lost interest in school, so he did not go back for his senior
Despite the lack of a high school certificate, both Wilbur and Orville
earned honorary graduate and post-graduate college degrees.
Honorary degrees awarded to Wilbur and Orville Wright
while Wilbur was still living:
University of Munich, Munich, Germany —
Honorary Doctor of Engineering, March 5, 1909.
Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana —
Honorary Bachelor of Science, June 16, 1909.
Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio — Honorary
Doctor of Laws, June 22, 1910.
After Wilbur died in 1912, Orville was awarded these degrees:
Polytechnicum of Chicago — Honorary Doctor
of Philosophy, March 31, 1915.
Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut —
Honorary Doctor of Science, June 23, 1915.
Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana —
Honorary Masters of Science, June 14, 1917.
University of Cincinnati — Honorary Doctor
of Science, June 16, 1917.
Yale University— Honorary Master
of Arts, June 18, 1919.
University of Michigan — Honorary
Doctor of Engineering, June 16, 1924.
Ohio State University—Honorary Doctor of
Science, June 10,1930.
Harvard University — Honorary Doctor of
Laws, June 19, 1930.
Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana —
Honorary Doctor of Laws, June 15, 1931
Huntington College, Huntington, Indiana —
Honorary Doctor of Laws, June 10, 1935
University of Dayton, Dayton, Ohio —
Honorary Doctor of Science, December 19, 1943.
- Otterbein College, Westerville, Ohio — Honorary Doctor of
Science, June 9, 1947
All totaled, there were 15 honorary degrees awarded to one or
both of the brothers.
Huffman Prairie, where the Wrights developed their experimental
powered aircraft into a practical flying machine, first came to the
attention of the world in the 1830's when botanist John Leonard Riddell
discovered three new species of plants on the "failed bog."
Riddell was also one of the earliest science fiction writers and wrote
about "aerial navigation."
When the Wrights asked to use it as a flying field in 1904, the
84-acre tract was still boggy due to poor drainage. Then the ground
froze in the winter, the expanding ice created "frost heaves" in the
peat, make the surface soft and springy. Walking over it feels something
akin to walking on a mattress. The Wrights may have chosen it for
precisely this reason -- they hoped to soft ground would provide some
protection from hard landings and crashes. Whatever the reason, it was
unproductive as farmland, so the owner Torrence Huffman needed little
convincing to allow Orville and Wilbur to use it.
After the first flights on December 17, 1903, Wilbur and Orville's brother
Lorin carried the news to an Associated Press representative Frank Tunison.
Frank also worked as a reporter at the Dayton Journal. Tunison
didn't think the four short flights were newsworthy and declined to run
the story -- ironic since Orville and Wilbur had specifically asked the
telegraph operator in Kitty Hawk not to tell the local press; they wanted
to story to come out of Dayton so that their home town would get the
glory. The telegraph operator blabbed anyway, and an inaccurate story
appeared in the Virginia Pilot. This was repeated in the Cincinnati
Enquirer and the New York American on December 18. Later
that same day, the Dayton Daily News ran the first accurate account
of the flight.
In the Wright family, Wilbur was often referred to a "Ullam" and
Orville was "Bubs." Ullam was the German form of
"William." Wilbur's mother Susan was the daughter of German immigrants;
either she or his maternal grandparents may have given Wilbur his
nickname. Their sister Katharine went by the nickname
"Swes," an affectionate German
diminutive for "little sister." .
The Wright family had at least three pets that we know about. When Wilbur
and Orville were children, they had a cat named "Old Mom." When
Wilbur was in France in 1908, he adopted a stray dog he called
"Flyer." And in later life, Orville
Orville bought a St. Bernard pup from Nina Dodd’s White Star
Kennels in Long Branch, New Jersey for $75 and had him shipped to
Dayton. Orville's sister Katharine named him "Scipio" after the famous
Roman general that had defeated Hannibal and thwarted an invasion of
Rome. The dog was much loved. When Orville died 15 years after Scipio
had passed, there were still photos of the St. Bernard in his wallet.
In traveling to Kitty Hawk, the Wright brothers took the Big
Four train from Dayton to Cincinnati, where they caught a C &O train
to Old Point Comfort, VA. From there they took a steamer to Norfolk; a
Norfolk and Southern train to Elizabeth City, NC; and a sailboat to Kitty
Hawk or Manteo, NC. The C&O traveled straight through West Virginia,
including passage through the Big Bend tunnel of John Henry fame.