Discover more from The Art of Unintended Consequences
Decision of Persistence
This is a Special Historical Edition of Unintended. Although there is no real “unintended” consequence here, I wanted to mark a special occasion with a focus on the “decision to be persistent.”
Challenge of Persistence
If my math is right, today (December 17, 2022) is the 119th anniversary of the Wright Brothers first flight.Happy Flight Day!
Some of you might find this interesting. Others, maybe not so much. However, as always, the underlying story is what is of interest here. So, what is this all about? Today, we will quickly explore where this particular decision of persistence to bring flight to man came from.
Don’t get me wrong. If the Wright Brothers had just given up, there were plenty of others who were working on flight. Given the curious, inventive, and obsessive nature of man, someone else would have eventually succeeded. In fact, there is some debate even today over exactly what constituted the “first flight” and who should be given this title.
For the sake of brevity, and because I am the writer and it is what I believe, I will make the assumption that Orville and Wilbur Wright own the title of the first men to accomplish powered, sustained, controlled, manipulated air flight.
I do have a little bias here. The first time I flew on a hang glider was at Kill Devil Hills, just south of Kitty Hawk, NC. That is where the Wright brothers made history. Where I flew was supposedly very close to where some of their actual flights were. It was a thrilling event I will never forget.
Of course, my glider was a little more advanced than the Wright Flyer. And I had an instructor within yelling distance as I raised the nose into the wind. Even though thousands had done it before me in that exact spot, it was very exciting.
I can’t imagine though what Orville and Wilbur felt. Did they feel at all the weight of world-changing history in the making? Could they even imagine what the world would become in those moments in the Wright Flyer, ready to launch? I doubt it. I imagine they were very much in the moment.
A Long Road to 59 Seconds of Flight.
It is hard for us to remember sometimes that the world back in 1903 was a completely different place. Absolutely foreign to us. Flight was just a dream. Powered engines were very new, inefficient, and heavy. Aerodynamics was practically non-existent. And, believe it or not, there was no internet and no Twitter.
So, how did these two men, the sons of a Minister, without high school or college degrees become these icons of our history? As is frequently the case, much of who they were came from the home. Their parents always encouraged them to pursue intellectual interests and to investigate whatever aroused their curiosity.
Additionally, there were numerous events and actions that led to the fulfillment of man’s centuries-long dream of flight. (The list below is an extremely abbreviated account as the full story would fill several books.)
Wilbur had planned to attend Yale (he ultimately did not get even his high school degree and Orville dropped out of high school). Before going to Yale, Wilber suffered a hocky injury and withdrew to himself for a few years. (Hmmmm… could this be an unintended consequence? Let’s see.)
Later, Orville and Wilbur joined together to establish a print shop.
On a side note, they published “The Tattler,” a newspaper for the African American community. It was edited by poet Paul Laurence Dunbar.You might remember my earlier article about Dunbar High School in Washington, DC which was named after him. (Irrelevant, but I love tying these stories together.)
At the print shop, they quickly developed a reputation for the quality of the presses they designed, built, and sold to other printers.
Having been encouraged by their parents to explore their interests, they also opened a bicycle repair and sales shop in 1896 - The Wright Cycle Exchange. They invented a braking system that is still used on modern bicycles. They also developed their own self-oiling bicycle wheel hub and other innovations. (Are we starting to see a persistent progression here?)
As children (to step backwards a bit), their father gave them a small flying machine (basically a helicopter) that was made of paper and bamboo. It was powered by a twisted rubber band. This toy was based on an invention by French aeronautical pioneer Alphonse Pénaud.Orville and Wilbur both credit this as their earliest spark of interest in flight.
In 1896, while they had the bicycle shop, they maintained an interest in flight. They began reading numerous stories of gliders being flown by men. In particular, German engineer Otto Lilienthalcaught their attention. Lilienthal eventually died when he crashed his glider. This only further reignited the Wright Brother's dream of flight that had been sparked earlier by that toy helicopter. Lilienthal’s death gave them a direction - Safe Flight. They now believed that the advances in aerodynamics and powered engines made it possible to create "flight." But one element was missing for safe flight - Control! They set their eyes on that singular concept. Develop control and the three elements would now combine to open the door to true, safe human flight.
It All Comes Together.
Ah! See, it seems there was an “unintended consequence” after all. Would Orville and Wilbur hold the place in history they do now if their father had NOT given them that little paper helicopter? Possibly not. They were brilliant men, but their focus would most likely have remained on ground transportation as bikes were extremely popular and self-propelled vehicles were gaining interest.
Fortunately, the spark had been ignited and their passion became the skies.
The profits from both the print shop and the bicycle operations provided them with much needed funds to drive their aeronautical experiments. Add that to the experience they gained in building complex machinery for the print shop and designing and building lightweight, precision parts for the bicycles and you have the perfect formula for innovation of the greatest order.
To break it down:
The toy helicopter ignited their interest in flight.
Wilbur’s soccer injury kept him from going to Yale.
They worked together to design printing presses.
As a team, they designed precision, lightweight parts for bicycles.
The stories of men flying in gliders consumed them both.
The revenue from the print shop and bicycle shop funded their passion.
They refused to give up until flight for man was a reality.
The genesis of their persistent dedication to precision machinery that led to the first practical airplane was the result, as frequently appears to be the case, of an unintended consequence - a simple gift when they were children.
IF you are willing to look for them, unintended consequences are at work in nearly every intersection in our lives.
Thanks for reading The Art of Unintended Consequences! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and information on my new book.
Author, Consultant, Wonderer of “What If?”
Author of “Public Speaking for Kids, Tweens, and Teens - Confidence for Life!”
Coming soon, my new book exploring the reformation of our K-12 Educational System. Subscribe to be one of the first to know when my new book is published.
Would you like to leave a comment or an unintended consequence tale of your own? Please click the button below and join the discussion.