Career Choices

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he Wright Brothers reached adulthood during a lingering depression, when work was scarce. Consequently, they decided to make their own, first as printers, then newspapermen, then as printers again. They began to ride bicycles for pleasure and became bicycle repairmen, later, bicycle builders. To many folks outside the family, it seemed as if they were wandering.

But a common thread ran through their early endeavors. Throughout these early businesses, they worked side by side on mechanical things  -- printing presses and bicycles. They even built their own internal combustion engine to run the power tools in their bicycle shop. They were also very athletic. They took long bicycle rides in the country; Orville even won a few bicycle races.  If they were wandering, they were wandering with a purpose. They were pursuing their own intellectual interests, as they had been brought up to do. The mechanical skills and athletic endurance that they gleaned would serve them well when they began to experiment with flying machines. Most important, they forged themselves into an efficient, creative team.


  • 1886 to 1889   Orville teaches himself the printing trade, then drops out of high school to start a printing business. His brother Wilbur helps Orville build his first press.
  • 1889 to 1890   Orville draws Wilbur into the business as a partner. Together, they build a second, larger press and make a reputation for themselves not just as printers, but as press mechanics.
  • 1890 to 1892   The brothers start several newspapers -- West Side News, The Evening Item, and The Tattler. The last is a venture with an old high school friend, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and is meant to serve the Afro-American community in Dayton, Ohio. But the Wrights can't compete with more established journals, and none of the papers survive. They continue as job printers.
  • 1892 to 1896   Wilbur and Orville join a bicycling club, and begin repairing bicycles for friends. They open a bicycle repair business, then begin selling bicycles. Eventually, they manufacture their own line of hand-built bicycles. The bicycle business does very well for the Wright brothers, and affords them the extra income they need to pursue another interest.
  • 1896  As devoted cyclers, Wilbur and Orville are aware of the need to balance their bikes as they ride. In a flash of insight, they realize that balance is also the key to flying an airplane. They begin to read everything they can find on the subject of aviation.

Note: You may also want to consult the Wright Timeline.

The West Side News, published by the Wright Brothers from 1889 to 1890.

A "Van Cleve" safety bicycle, hand-built by the Wrights.

Otto Lilienthal flying a glider in Germany just before his death in 1896. The Wrights followed his career avidly.

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 Eddie Rickenbacker



The Wright Story/Career Choices

Part of a biography of the Wright Brothers
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