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Wright family was one of the oldest in Ohio; Wilbur and Orville's
grandfather had helped settle Miami County. Because of their
father's occupation, they traveled a good deal during their
early childhood, but the Wrights eventually came to rest in Dayton,
Milton Wright and
Susan Catherine Koerner Wright,
married in 1859.
- Milton Wright,
born 1828 on his father's farm in Rush County, IN. He worked as
a farmhand until he joined the Church of the United
Brethren 1847 and he was ordained a minister in the
church in 1856. While he was assigned to Hartsville
College, a United Brethren school, in 1853 he met
Susan Koerner. The two were married in 1859 and had
seven children between 1861 and 1874. Over the
years, Milton served as a circuit-riding Minister
for the United Brethren
Church, a professor of theology, editor of the Religious
Telescope (the United Brethren newspaper), and an elected
Bishop in his church. His assignments within the United Brethren Church
required him to move his family often. The Wrights
lived in Dayton, OH, Cedar Rapids, IA, and many
locations in Indiana. His responsibilities required
that he travel extensively, sometimes as much as
8000 miles in a single year. During these travels,
Milton kept in close contact with his wife and
children, exchanging hundreds of letters. He could
be stern, but he was also an affectionate and
supportive father. He and Susan encouraged their
children's natural curiosity and kept two large
libraries in the home for them to use. Occasionally,
he would let his sons and daughter take a day off
from school to pursue their own interests. In 1889,
Milton Wright broke with the liberal leadership of the United
Brethren Church and started his own conservative sect, Church of the United
Old Constitution. For a while, he was that most prominent member in the
sect, but his inability to compromise and
sometimes caustic personality eventually eroded his
support. The United Brethren Church leaders forced
him into retirement in 1905 at the age of 77. He
died in 1917.
For more details about the life
of Milton Wright, see: Bishop
Milton Wright, age 44
Milton Wright, Age 86
- Susan Wright, born 1831 in
Loudoun County near Hillsboro, VA. He father
John Gottlieb Koerner was a skilled wagon maker who
had immigrated to America from the tiny village of
Förthen, Germany (near Schleiz) in
1818. He worked as a carriage maker in
Baltimore for a time where he married Catherine Fry
in 1820. The couple moved in with Catherine's
parents on their farm in Loudoun Country where John
made carriages and operated a forge. In 1832, just
after Susan was born, the Koerners moved to a
170-acre farm in Union County, Indiana south of the
town of Liberty. He prospered in Indiana from both
farming and wagon-making, and became a citizen of
the United States in 1840. Orville remembered that his
grandfather's farm was like a small village with
fourteen buildings. Many of these were workshops
filled with woodworking and metalworking tools.
Susan, although she was a woman, learned to use
many of these tools with considerable skill. Her
family remembered her as being mechanically adept
and very handy, making household appliances and toys
for her children. John Koerner had been a
Presbyterian, but converted to the United Brethren
faith shortly after arriving in Indiana and became a
prominent member of the Franklin United Brethren
Church. Susan was baptized into the United Brethren
faith in 1845 when she was fourteen. In addition to
being skilled with tools, Susan was also a scholar
and the head of her class in school.
In 1853 when she was 22 years old, Susan attended Hartville College in Indiana,
a United Brethren school. It was unusual for women
of this time to attend college, and the United
Brethren were unusually progressive in their
attitudes concerning education and women's rights.
At Hartville, she excelled in literature and science and was the top mathematician in her class.
She also met her future husband, Milton Wright. They
were married in 1859 and she bore him seven children
between 1861 and 1874. Two of her children died
shortly after birth, five survived to adulthood.
Her husband's career with the Church of the
United Brethren took him all over the United States
she moved her family twelve times, setting up
households in Indiana, Iowa, and Ohio. Susan was for
the most part a minister's wife and a homemaker,
holding down the fort during Milton long absences,
but she occasionally worked as a dressmaker.
In 1883, while the family was living near Richmond,
Indiana, Susan began to show signs of "the
consumption" – tuberculosis. The Wrights moved for
the last time in 1884, ending up in Dayton, Ohio the
unofficial capital of the Church of the United
Brethren. Susan continued to decline and her third
son, Wilbur, put off college and stayed home to
nurse her. She was completely invalid by 1886 and
died in 1889.
Susan Koerner, age 28.
Susan Wright, age 40.
and Orville were the third and sixth born of seven children.
- Reuchlin Wright, born 1861. He spent a year at Western
College near Cedar Rapids, IA in 1879, then briefly taught elementary school . He spent
another year at Hartville College, IN with his brother Lorin, then took a job as a
clerk in a lumberyard in Dayton, OH. He married Lulu Billheimer, the
daughter of United Brethren missionaries, in 1886 and had a
daughter, Catherine Louise, a year later. For a short time after his first
daughter was born, Reuch (pronounced Roosh)
and Lulu lived with her parents in Birmingham,
Alabama, then moved back to Dayton, OH. Reusch had a
difficult time earning a living in Dayton, and in 1889 he moved his family to Kansas City,
MO where he found
work as a bookkeeper with another lumber company. That job proved a dead end, and he took
another with a railroad. In 1901, he moved to a farm near Tonganoxie,
he raised cattle and seed corn. His daughter Catherine died soon after moving west, but Reuch and Lulu had three more children – Helen Margaret, Herbert, and Bertha Ellwyn. He
died in 1920.
Some historians are of the opinion the Reuch was the
black sheep of the Wright family and have painted
him as being at loggerheads with his father Milton.
There was probably some tension between them –
fathers often have more expectations of first-born
sons than are warranted – but the evidence suggests
that while Milton was stern to the point of being
overbearing, his sense of family was too strong not
to be supportive and interested in Reuch's
well-being. Although Reuch lived far from Dayton,
Milton visited him as often as he could. Reuch also
visited Dayton, and his correspondence with family
members was warm and affectionate. He was definitely
critical of himself. When he arranged the sale of
his father's land in Adair, Iowa in 1901, he thought
that he had bested in the deal and offered to take a
lesser share of the proceeds that Milton wanted to
distribute equally among his sons. He also balked at
accepting his inheritance from Wilbur in 1912,
saying that he hadn't been as involved in the
airplane business as Orville, Lorin and Katharine.
But these feelings of inferiority were likely the
result of his own hard luck in life rather than any
break from his family.
Reuchlin Wright, age 15.
Reuchlin Wright, age 40.
- Lorin Wright, born 1862. He spent some time
on the Kansas frontier, then attended Hartville College, IN for a year in 1882. He
found work as a bookkeeper for a carpet store in Dayton, OH and courted Ivonette Stokes.
Lorin and Ivonette married in 1892 and had four children
– Milton, Ivonette, Leontine,
and Horace . In 1893, he went to work for Wilbur and Orville in their print shop, and in
1900 helped Katharine manage the Wright Cycle company while their brothers were in Kitty
Hawk, NC. He also started his own "street sprinkling" business to help
make some extra money. (Before 1900, there were less than 12 miles of
paved streets in Dayton and street sprinkling was necessary to keep
the dust down in dry weather.) He visited Wilbur and Orville at Kitty Hawk in 1902
where he took photos of their gliding experiments,
then notified the press in 1903
after their first powered flights. When Wilbur and Orville needed a large
space for propeller tests or to assemble large
airframes, Lorin loaned them his carriage barn --
his home on West Second Street was almost directly
behind their bicycle shop on West Third. In 1911, Lorin
and his son Horace traveled with Orville to Kitty
Hawk with a new glider. There he helped his brother
world's first soaring record
– Orville stayed
aloft for almost ten minutes. Two years later, he helped Orville
test the first airplane autopilot, a device which won the Collier Trophy for
aeronautics. In 1914, he spied on Glenn Curtiss in
Hammondsport, NY as
Curtiss was testing the 1903 Langley Aerodrome.
Curtiss had lost a patent suit the Wrights had brought
against him and he flew the old Aerodrome in an
attempt to get around the patent by proving that
another airplane could have flown before the Wright
After Orville sold the Wright Company, Lorin bought an interest in Miami Wood Specialties
– the company manufactured
toys, including one called Flips and Flops that Orville
had designed. He also became a
city commissioner in Dayton. He died in 1939.
Lorin Wright, age 13.
Lorin Wright, age 40.
- Wilbur Wright, born 1867. Wilbur was an excellent
student and athlete. He completed the requirements for a high school
degree at Richmond High School in Richmond, IN, but never applied for
a certificate, perhaps because his family moved to Dayton, OH just
before graduation. In 1885, he took several college preparatory
classes at Central High School in Dayton, OH with ambitions of going
to Yale University, but he never attended college. Instead, he stayed
home and nursed his sick mother until she died in 1889.
Afterwards, his brother Orville drew Wilbur into the newspaper
business as editor of the West Side News and later, The
Evening Item. When the newspaper business failed, Wilbur became a
partner with Orville in a printing company, a bicycle repair shop, and
a bicycle manufacturing company. In 1896, Wilbur and Orville became
interested in aviation. They performed their first aeronautical
experiments with kites in 1899, then built a series of gliders through
1902, developing an aerodynamic control system for airplanes while
teaching themselves to fly. They added an engine to their aircraft in
1903 and made the first controlled, sustained powered flights on
December 17 of that year. They continued to refine their invention
until it was what they considered a "practical" airplane.
They made the first public demonstrations of this machine to a group
of Dayton residents on October 4, 1905. In 1908, they sold airplanes
to the US Army and to a French syndicate, and demonstrated them to the
public at large. In 1909, Wilbur flew before a million people at the
Hudson-Fulton Celebration in New York City. The Wright brothers
organized the Wright Company to manufacture airplanes in 1909, and they began
to file patent infringement suits against other airplane manufacturers
that were using their methods of aerodynamic control. Wilbur became
the designated "expert witness" in these cases and traveled
frequently to give testimony. Worn out, he contracted typhoid on one
of his many journeys and died in Dayton on May 30, 1912
– exactly 13
years after he began his first formal aviation experiments.
Wilbur Wright, age 9.
Wilbur Wright, age 42.
- Twins Otis and Ida Wright, born 1870, died in infancy.
- Orville Wright, born 1871, died 1948. Orville was a
good student during his elementary school years, but his grades
suffered as he grew older and developed other outside interests. He
loved carving and printing from woodcuts, and he apprenticed himself
to a printer during the summer months after his family moved to
Dayton. In 1889, the year his mother died, Orville decided not to
return for his senior year of high school. Instead, he began printing
his own newspaper, The West Side News, and enlisted his brother
Wilbur as the editor. Later, he changed the weekly newspaper to a
daily and called it The Evening Item. The Item folded
after just a few months, Orville became a partner with Wilbur in a
printing company, a bicycle repair shop, and a bicycle manufacturing
company. In 1896, the brothers became interested in aviation.
They performed their first aeronautical experiments with kites in
1899, then built a series of gliders through 1902, developing an
aerodynamic control system for airplanes while teaching themselves to
fly. They added an engine to their aircraft in 1903 and made the first
controlled, sustained powered flights on December 17 of that year.
They continued to refine their invention until it was what they
considered a "practical" airplane. They made the first
public flights in this machine before a group of Dayton residents on
October 4, 1905. In 1908, they sold airplanes to the US Army and to a
French syndicate, and demonstrated them to the public at large. The
Wright brothers organized the Wright Company to manufacture airplanes in 1909,
with Wilbur as the President. When Wilbur died of typhoid in 1912,
Orville reluctantly took over. He sold the company in 1915
and retired to follow his own interests. He was co-designer of the first guided missile (the
Liberty Eagle) during World
War 1 and was the co-inventor of "split flaps" used on dive
bombers in World War 2. He was a lifelong board member on the National
Advisory Council on Aeronautics (NACA), which later became NASA -- the
National Air and Space Administration. Much of his energies in his
later years were spent protecting and preserving the honor that he and
his brother Wilbur had earned in developing the first true airplanes.
Orville Wright, age 6.
Orville Wright, age 36.
- Katharine Wright, born 1874,
shared her birthday with Orville Wright. She took her mother's place as
head of the Wright household when she was just 15 and continued to serve
as the mistress of the Wright home until 1926. She was the only one of
the Wright children to finish college. She got her teaching degree from
Oberlin College in 1898 and began teaching classical literature at Steele
High School in Dayton, OH. She took a leave of absence from her teaching
post when Orville was badly injured in an airplane accident in 1908 and
never went back. She nursed Orville back to health, traveled to France
with him to join their brother Wilbur, and flew with Wilbur in France for
the first time. Thereafter, she was involved in her brothers' airplane
business and was made an officer of the Wright Company in 1912 when Wilbur
died. After Orville sold the Wright Company in 1915, she continued
to live with him until 1926. A chance meeting with an old college friend,
Henry Haskell, sparked a romance late in her life and she decided to marry
for the first time. Orville was enraged; he could not imagine life without
Katharine and refused to come to the wedding. Henry and Katharine lived in
Kansas City were he was editor of the Star newspaper. Two years
after she married, Katharine contracted pneumonia. When she was on her
deathbed, Lorin Wright managed to talk his brother Orville into making
amends. Orville traveled to Kansas City and was with Katharine when she
died in 1929.
For more details about the life
of Katharine Wright, see:
Katharine Wright, age 4.
Katharine Wright, age 33.
If you are interested in the history of
the Wright family or the ancestors of the Wright
brothers, visit our section on
Genealogy. We have also collected these biographies
into a printer-friendly PDF file,
A Genealogical History of the