An Unusual Childhood

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The Bishop's Kids 


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A Life on Hold 


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ilbur and Orville Wright grew up in a close, caring family. Their father, Milton Wright – a bishop in the Church of the United Brethren – was a strict disciplinarian, but he and his wife, Susan were also warm, loving, protective, and encouraged  intellectual interest and constructive activity.  Susan, the daughter of a skilled carriage maker, was remarkably mechanically adept and she taught her children to make all manner of things. Although Milton didn't have the in-depth knowledge of tools and techniques that his wife had, he had been a farmer for most of his young life and had worked extensively with his hands. He certainly respected and encouraged his children's constructive activity. He also exposed his children to the wide world beyond their horizon through his extensive library and the letters he sent home when he traveled on church business.

The Wright brothers had their share of squabbles, like siblings everywhere. But they were much closer than most. Of his relationship to his brother, Wilbur 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."

Because of Milton's vocation, the Wright family were on the move during Wilbur and Orville's school years. Milton's church assignments took the family to Indiana, Ohio, Iowa, back to Indiana, and finally back to Ohio. In 1884, they settled down for good in Dayton, Ohio.


  • 1859 to 1869   Milton Wright and Susan Koerner marry in 1859. The United Brethren Church assigns Milton Wright as a circuit preacher in eastern Indiana. Wilbur is born near Millville on April 16, 1867.
  • 1869 to 1878   Milton moves to Dayton to edit the Religious Telescope newspaper and buys a new house in a  suburb on the west side of the city. Orville is born in that house on August 19, 1871. Milton is elected a bishop in 1877.
  • 1878 to 1881   Milton is appointed leader of the United Brethren conferences west of the Mississippi and the Wrights move to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Returning from one of his travels, his brings Wilbur and Orville a toy helicopter. The boys make several copies.
  • 1881 to 1884    Milton loses his position to church politics and returns to Indiana as a circuit preacher. Susan's health begins to fail. Wilbur excels as a scholar and an athlete and graduates high school. Orville becomes interested in printing and develops a reputation for mischief.
  • 1884 to 1889   Concerned about changes in the United Brethren Church, Milton moves his family back to Dayton, Ohio to be closer to the leadership. In 1889 he splits with the church becomes leader of his own sect. After a sporting accident, Wilbur puts off college and tends his tuberculin mother. Orville drops out of high school in his senior year to start a printing business.

Milton Wright, as a rising young clergyman in the Church of the United Brethren in 1871.

Susan Koerner Wright in 1870. Her father, John Gottlieb Koerner, was a carriage maker and master craftsman in both wood and metal.

Reuchlin Wright at age 15.


Lorin Wright at age 13.


Wilbur Wright at age 9.


Orville Wright at age 4.


Katharine Wright at age 1.

The Wright siblings in 1875.

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The Wright Story/An Unusual Childhood

Part of a biography of the Wright Brothers
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