The Wright Family

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he 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, Ohio.

Parents

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 Brethren, 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.
     

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 and 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.

Siblings

Wilbur 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, KS, 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.

    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 set the 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 Flyer.  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.

Katharine Wright, age 4.


Katharine Wright, age 33.
 

More Sources

If you are interested in the history of the Wright family or the ancestors of the Wright brothers, visit our section on Wright Genealogy. We have also collected these biographies into a printer-friendly PDF file, A Genealogical History of the Wright Family.
 

 

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