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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, Indiana. 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, Ohio, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, 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
Loudon County near Hillsboro, VA. He father
John Gottlieb Koerner was a skilled wagon maker who
had immigrated to America from Foerthen, Germany 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 Loudon Country where John
made carriages and operated a forge. 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 making
wagons and farming. 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, despite that 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, the 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.
Because her husband's career with the Church of the
United Brethren took him all over the United States,
she moved here 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 here 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, Iowa in 1879, then briefly taught elementary school . He spent
another year at Hartville College, Indiana with his brother Lorin and took a job as a
clerk in a lumberyard in Dayton, Ohio. He married Lulu Billheimer in 1886 and had a
daughter, Catherine Louise, a year later. Reuch (pronounced Roosh) had a
difficult time earning a living in Dayton, and moved to Kansas City in 1889 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, Kansas, where
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.
Reuchlin Wright, age 15.
Reuchlin Wright, age 40.
- Lorin Wright, born 1862. He spent some time
on the Kansas frontier, then attended Hartville College, Indiana for a year in 1882. He
found work as a bookkeeper for a carpet store in Dayton, Ohio 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. 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, notified the press in 1903
after their first powered flights, and loaned them his barn to build the machine that
eventually became the first United States military aircraft. In 1911, he helped Orville
test the first airplane autopilot and, in 1915, he spied on Glenn Curtiss to gather
information for the Wright patent suit against the rival airplane manufacturer.
After Orville sold the Wright Company, Lorin bought an interest in Miami Wood Specialties
-- the company manufactured a toy that Orville 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, Ohio 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 a 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 a company to manufacture airplanes in 1909,
with Wilbur as the President. When Wilbur died of typhoid in 1912,
Orville reluctantly took over the company. He sold the company in 1915
and retired to follow his own interests. He was a consulting engineer
on 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 house 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, Ohio. 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.