Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Wright Way

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DECEMBER 17
The Wright Way

Exactly 110 years ago today, the world took flight. It was on this date in 1903 that Wilbur and Orville Wright made the first-ever controlled, powered flight. Think for a moment what it was like for them on a windy North Carolina beach in the middle of December. Yikes!

I’ve written two books about the brothers — The Wright Brothers: A Flying Start and The Wright Brothers — and I loved discovering their life stories and how they felt about their experimenting and great achievement. Here are five of my favourite Wright Facts:

* The Wrights were sometimes discouraged by their lack of progress towards flight. At one point Wilbur even said, “I made the prediction that man would sometimes fly, but that it would not be in our lifetime.”

* One of the problems the brothers had creating an airplane was figuring out how to control it. Then Wilbur noticed that a pigeon changed the position of its wing tips to help it turn. He realized that if he and Orville could figure out how to “warp” the shape of the machine’s wings during flight, they could control its direction. So keen observation plus following what Nature has already figured out equaled world-changing invention.

* Wilbur and Orville thought the plane would bring an end to war because country borders would no longer matter as much, and people would be afraid to fight each other because planes could carry such deadly weapons and cause so much damage.

* In 1916, Wilbur bought an island in Georgian Bay (in Ontario) and spent almost every summer there until World War II.

* Just 54 years after the Wrights’ first flight, engineers launched the satellite Sputnik I into orbit around Earth, and started the Space Race.

Writing the book The Wright Brothers: A Flying Start also taught me the importance of a book dedication. I offered up the dedication of the book at a charity auction, and a friend of mine bought it for a friend whose nephew had just died at age two of cancer. At that point, my book was barely more than an outline and by the time I was ready for the dedication, the little boy’s grandfather had died — the two had been special friends.

The little boy’s aunt wrote a dedication for the boy and grandfather and she kept this project a secret from her family. When I got the books to her, her mom — the wife and grandmother — was overjoyed. She hadn’t told anyone but she had a secret fear gnawing away at her: that her husband and grandson would be quickly forgotten, and no one would remember them.

A few words on a piece of paper changed that for her. I’m so grateful I could have a part in it.

And Another Thing …
Ever wondered why Orville and Wilbur had such unusual names? What you probably don’t know is that they also had brothers named Reuchlin and Lorin. Their father, Milton, felt that Wright was such an ordinary name that his kids needed first names that really stood out.

For some reason, Dad Wright didn’t think it was necessary to give the boys’ sister, Katharine, an interesting name. I wonder if she felt left out or grateful!

Thanks for reading.

3 comments

I endorse bpw's sentiments. You have the most astonishing facility for researching fascinating stories. I've learned a lot just from your blogs! Many thanks for such entertaining pieces. Perhaps Reuchlin and Lorin would make good names for cats?

I was hoping my friend Alix would comment on the Georgian Bay fact above (really I was!) but I wasn't expecting her to have to correct me. But thank you -- of course it was Orville who had a cottage there. Alix also said, "Our old family cottage was nearby and there are stories of seeing Orville in the vicinity often." Thank you, Alix -- see what happens when a writer has no editor??

Thanks for another interesting and informative piece. If only the brothers Wright were right, that their invention would bring an end to war. Perhaps a book on intended uses of inventions and unintended consequences... Oh, never mind, you are already co-writing a book at this time. Your gifting/auctioning of book dedications is a very fine thing. It is another way for a loved and loving other to be acknowledged. Very special. Keep up the great work. I hope December never ends!

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Elizabeth MacLeod

Award-winning author Elizabeth MacLeod has written over 50 books for children. Her most recent book, Bones Never Lie: How Forensics Helps Solve History’s Mysteries, was published by Annick Press.

Go to Elizabeth MacLeod’s Author Page