The Wright brothers, Wilbur and Orville, were described by their father as “inseparable as twins.” Wilbur once wrote: From the time we were little children, my brother Orville and myself lived together, played together, worked together, and in fact, thought together. We usually owned all of our toys in common, talked over our thoughts and aspirations so that nearly everything that was done in our lives has been the result of conversations, suggestions, and discussions between us (cited in Crouch, 1989, pp. 49-50).
I fell in love with the Wright brothers when I read the Landmark Book about them as a child. I was fascinated by these two brothers who were so much like twins they could complete each other’s sentences and so full of imagination they invented the airplane. When I began researching seeking families with more than one famous sibling for my genogram research, I was amazed to discover that I could find out almost nothing about family, especially about the other brothers. The story seemed to be that these two “twin” brothers, sons of two highly intelligent and talented parents who had both gone to college, which was extremely rare, especially for women in that era, were both expected to be high achievers. Yet both Wilbur and Orville dropped out of high school shortly before graduating. They hung around working at a bicycle shop, and then invented the airplane!
It was the strangest story. The parents had high aspirations for the achievement of all their children. The highest aspirations of all, were apparently for Wilbur, who was expected to go, not just to college but to Divinity School, since the father was a minister and then a bishop. And not just any Divinity School, but Yale Divinity School was the expectation for him. So how did it happen that he just dropped out of school and hung around, even leading to rumors within the family that he was malingering.
I kept asking myself what happened to these two brothers that they never even finished high school and never dated or left home. And what happened to their other brothers, Reuchlin and Lorin, about whom we’ve never heard even a word? Interestingly, the landmark book, along with many other biographies, completely ignores these two older brothers, who were, in fact more like twins in age, being only a year apart, while Wilbur and Orville were a full 4 years apart. What would it be like to have been one of the other brothers of the Wright brothers? And how did they go from being high school dropouts in this family of high aspirations to becoming world famous inventers of the airplane? I did find it interesting to learn that Orville and Katherine, the youngest of the 5 siblings shared a birth date, August 19, so those two might have been thought to be somewhat like twins by sharing a birthday.
And, of course, these two amazing brothers did not just happen to invent the airplane. They worked in a highly collaborative way together for years. As their work on inventing the airplane developed, the charge in their already close relationship was particularly intense. For six or seven weeks they worked together day and night, and argued all the way. They could even reverse positions and continue their intense arguing. An assistant recalled that whenever the brothers were in the same room the shouting would start, resounding through the house…
Monica McGoldrick used these references in her research for this Genogram Story about the Wright Brothers:
Crouch, T. D. (1989) The Bishop’s boys: A life of Wilbur and Orville Wright. New York: Norton. Freedman, R. (1991). The Wright brothers: How they invented the airplane. New York: Holiday House. Goulder, G. (1964). Ohio scenes and citizens. Cleveland: World. Howard, F. (1987). Wilbur and Orville: A biography of the Wright brothers. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. Kelly, F. C. (1989). The Wright brothers: A biography. New York: Dover. Kinnane, A (1982). The crucible of flight. Unpublished manuscript. George Washington University, Meyer Treatment Center. Kinnane, A. (1988). A house united: Morality and invention in the Wright Brothers’ Home. Psychohistory Review, Spring, 367-397. Mackersey, I. (2003). The Wright brothers: The remarkable story of the aviation pioneers who changed the world. New York: Time/Warner. Maurer, R. (2003). The Wright sister. Brookfield, CT: The Millbrook Press. McMahon, J. R. (1930). The Wright brothers: Fathers of flight. Boston: Little, Brown. Miller, I. W. (1978). Wright reminiscences. Dayton, Ohio: Privately printed. Renstrom, A. G. (1975). Wilbur and Orville Wright: A chronology commemorating the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of Orville Wright. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress. Reynolds, Q. (1950). The Wright brothers. New York: Random House, 1950. Walsh, J. E. (1975). One day at Kitty Hawk: The untold story of the Wright Brothers and the airplane. New York: Crowell. Wilson, A. N. (1988). Tolstoy. New York: W. W. Norton. Wright, M. (1999). Diaries: 1857-1917. Wright State University.