Claiming him as a Hoosier

I was a bit surprised to learn of his Hoosier roots. Really? The Wright Brothers had anything to do with Indiana? But there was a mural of the Wright Brothers bike shop on a building in Richmond and a highway sign for the birthplace of Wilbur.

Wilbur was born April 16, 1845, in a house in the middle of nowhere in Eastern Indiana. Not in any small town or population center but in a house surrounded by cornfields, even in present-day Indiana. Somewhere between Millville and Hagerstown, I found myself led deeper into the back roads off of Highway 38.

The birthplace consists of several structures: a monument; a replica of a 1953 F-84; a replica of the original house, barn, and smokehouse; and a museum with a replica of the plane flown at Kitty Hawk—lots of replicas, light on originals. The house was razed in 1955 but then rebuilt in 1973 to the same specifications as the original.

The grounds take about two hours to pursue. The house and museum contain lots of artifacts, letters, audio, and video. As with most (all?) museums or cultural venues in Indiana, the Wilbur Wright Birthplace receives no money from the state. It is completely supported through private funds and run by volunteers.

Milton Wright, Wilbur’s father, was a bishop in the United Brethren church and moved the family quite a bit, inside Indiana and then in Ohio. Wilbur actually only lived in Indiana for the first 18 months of his life.

The Wright Brothers—Orville and Wilbur—were inseparable. They were blessed with parents who encouraged exploration and intellectual curiosity. In fact, their mother, Susan, had a penchant for mechanical engineering; they often turned to her for advice until her death in 1889.

The historic flight on December 17, 1903 actually consisted of four historic flights. To be considered a success, a flight needed to cover 200 feet—the fourth one meeting that requirement.

Strange to think about how this all might not have been. Wilbur wanted to go to Yale but after a hockey accident and a bout with depression, he gave up those dreams. What would have happened, one imagines, if he had gone to Yale rather than remain at home and later join Orville in his printing business and then bicycle shop?


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