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  Available in Française, Español, Português, Deutsch, Россию, 中文, 日本, and others.

f you're looking for help with a paper on the Wright brothers, or you're involved in a History Day project, we've collected some information that you may find useful:

Also check out our Resources page where we have listed many books, videos, libraries, archives, museums, and web links where you can find additional information of the Wright brtohers.


Primary Sources

When writing an report on an historical event, your most reliable sources are eyewitness accounts from people who actually saw or participated in the event. These are called primary sources. The best primary sources for the invention of the airplane are the Wright brothers themselves, who -- fortunately for us -- left behind reams of letters, diaries, photographs, technical papers, and other first-person accounts of their experiments. We also have a good many reports from relatives, friends, neighbors, employees, and associates who knew them well and were part of their lives.

Where you dive in to the first-person accounts and how deeply you dive depends on what you already know about the Wright brothers, your level of interest, and/or just how determined your are to get a good grade on your report. We've listed the primary sources here in the suggested order in which you should read them if you're starting with nothing more than what you've gleaned from general history books.

Note: Click on the covers to the left to see a Table of Contents for each book.

1. Wright, Orville, How We Invented the Airplane: An Illustrated History, edited by Fred C. Kelly, New York, Dover Publications, 1988.

This is a short book (88 pages), lavishly illustrated with lots of photos. (Bottom line -- it's a great primary source that won't take you long to read.) It's a collection of several magazine articles written by Orville Wright in which he tells the story of the invention of the airplane in his own words. The articles are strung together with commentary by Fred C. Kelly, a friend of Orville's and the official biographer of the Wright Brothers, to help you understand the whole story.

2. Kelly, Fred C., The Wright Brothers: A Biography, New York, Harcourt, Brace, and Company, 1943. Republished by Dover Publications in 1989.

Although Fred Kelly is listed as the author of this book, this is really an "as told to" biography -- the story of the Wright brothers as told to Fred Kelly by Orville Wright. Kelly worked closely with Orville to create an "authorized" account of the invention of the airplane. Orville told Kelly the particulars of the story, then edited the final manuscript, so we have his assurance that Kelly's telling of the tale is as accurate as his own. In that sense, this can be considered a primary resource. It's a medium-size book (340 pages) and provides a full, detailed account of the lives of the Wright brothers.

3. Wright, Orville and Wilbur, Miracle at Kitty Hawk: The Letters of Wilbur and Orville Wright, edited by Fred C. Kelly, New York, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc., 1951. Republished by Dover Publications in 1996.

Now you're getting to the heart of the matter. This large book (482 pages) contains extracts from the letters and diaries of the Wright brothers. Kelly has strung them together in such a way as to create a first-person account of the invention of the airplane and the lives of the Wright brothers in detail. You learn what the brothers were thinking and why they did what they did at every turn of the story.

4. Miller, Ivonette Wright, Wright Reminiscences, Dayton, Ohio, The Air Force Museum Foundation, 1978.

This will help fill in the story with first-hand accounts from people who knew the Wright brothers intimately. Ivonette Wright Miller was Lorin Wright's daughter and a niece of Wilbur and Orville Wright. She was at their home often to visit her uncles, her aunt (Katharine Wright), and her grandfather (Bishop Milton Wright). Along with the other relatives and friends whose reminiscences she has collected, Ms. Miller paints an intimate picture of life in the Wright household.


In-Depth Research

If you really get hooked on the story (many people do) and you're hungry for the minute details of the Wright adventure, there are two more primary sources that you can consult:

5. Wright, Orville and Wilbur, The Papers of Wilbur & Orville Wright, Volumes 1 and 2, edited by Marvin W. McFarland. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1953.

This is a greatly expanded collection of letters and papers, much like Kelly's Miracle at Kitty Hawk, but with three times the information. (Together, volumes 1 and 2 contain 1278 pages.) This is a must if you're after the engineering side of the story -- Orville and Wilbur's most important technical papers are included here.

6. Jakab, Peter L. and Young, Rick, The Published Writings of Wilbur and Orville Wright, Washington, D.C., Smithsonian Institution Press, 2000.

You could consider this a companion book to McFarland's volumes (above). This contains many of the magazine articles,  interviews, technical papers, and other writings that the Wright brothers published in contemporary newspapers, magazines, and journals.

For additional books, pamphlets, and videos on the Wright brothers, see our bibliography at Books, Movies, &tc.


Interlibrary Loan

If you're library doesn't have one of the primary sources we've mentioned here, don't panic.  You should be able to get them through "interlibrary loan." This is a service that most large libraries offer. If you need a book that's not on the shelves in your local library, ask the librarian for an interlibrary loan form. Fill it out with the information on this page and then submit it to the librarian. They will do a computer search to find the closest library with the book available for loan and order it for you. When it comes in, they will notify you. Then you can borrow the book, usually for the same amount of time as the other books in your local library.


Wright Photos

Many of you have written in asking where you can get copies of Wright photos to make History Day displays or help illustrate your reports. How about right HERE? For free! The catch is that you have to download them and print them out yourself.

We've put up 48 photos that tell the story of the invention of the airplane from 1899 when the Wright brothers conducted their first aeronautical experiment to 1909 when they finally began selling practical airplanes. Choose the photos you want and download the high-resolution images by following the instructions at the top of the page. Once you have downloaded the high-res files, you can print out large, detailed images on an ordinary inkjet or laser printer. For best results, print these out on glossy "photo" paper made especially for computer printers. This paper is available at most office supply and computer stores. Teachers: You can use these hi-res images as posters for classroom decoration or as digital slides in presentations.

If you want to include these photos in reports, you will probably want to resize them so the files aren't quite so big. Otherwise the report file will be massive and your computer may have a hard time digesting it when you print it out. Resize the photos to a 640 x 400 screen -- this should reduce most of them to a file size of between 50K and 100K.

Orville (left) and Wilbur (right) at an air meet in New York in 1910.

Wright Timeline

Sometimes a timeline gives you a succinct overview of an historical event and shows how it developed. To help understand the invention of the airplane, here's a brief chronology of the Wright brothers lives. If you'd like a more detailed timeline that puts the Wright story in its perspective with other important events, click HERE.

  • 1867 — Wilbur Wright is born near Millville, Indiana.
  • 1871 — Orville Wright is born in Dayton, Ohio.
  • 1878 — Wright brothers build their first aircraft, a rubber-band powered helicopter they call a "bat."
  • 1885 — A sports injury leads to health problems that prevent Wilbur from attending college.
  • 1886 — Orville starts a printing business while he is still in high school.
  • 1889 — Orville publishes a newspaper, the "West Side News," and Wilbur joins him as editor. The newspaper business does not profit and the Wrights return to "job" printing.
  • 1893 — The Wright brothers begin to sell and repair bicycles.
  • 1895 — The Wrights manufacture their own bicycles, the "St. Clair" and the "Van Cleve." The bike business is profitable.
  • 1896 — The Wrights take an interest in the "flying problem."
  • 1899 — Wilbur devises an aerodynamic control system for aircraft and builds a kite to test it.
  • 1900 to 1902 — The Wright brothers fly gliders at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, refining their control system. At home in Dayton, Ohio, they build a wind tunnel and conduct research on wing shapes.
  • 1903 — The Wright brothers make the first controlled, sustained powered flights at Kitty Hawk.
  • 1904 to 1905 — The Wrights develop a practical airplane near Dayton.
  • 1908 — The Wright brothers demonstrate a two-passenger airplane in Europe and America.
  • 1909 — The Wrights begin to manufacture airplanes.
  • 1912 — Wilbur Wright dies of typhoid in Dayton, Ohio.
  • 1915 — Orville Wright sells his airplane- company.
  • 1932 — The Wright Brothers Monument at Kitty Hawk is dedicated.
  • 1938 — The Wright Bicycle Shop and Wright home are opened to the public at Henry Ford Museum/Greenfield Village.
  • 1948 — Orville Wright dies of a heart attack in Dayton, Ohio and the Wright brothers' first powered airplane, the 1903 "Flyer," is enshrined at the Smithsonian Institution.

If you have a broader interest in pioneer aviation, see A History of the Airplane. The section titled The Century Before presents a timeline of events leading up to the first flights, and the section called The Decade After is a timeline of the pioneer aviation era. For serious scholars who wish to consult a day-to-day chronology on the Wright brothers' lives, we offer George Arnold Renstrom's classic, Wilbur and Orville Wright: A Chronology in PDF format. Renstrom's work also contains a detailed flight log of their glider experiments, test flights at Huffman Prairie, training flights and exhibition flights in Europe and America.

Wilbur Wright about the age he began to make rubber band-powered "bats."

An advertisement for Wright bicycles.

Damaged Flyer after its fourth flight on December 17, 1903.

Flyer hanging in the Smithsonian in 1948.

Wright Flyer Models

Real and Virtual
If you want to build a model of a Wright airplane to help show or demonstrate its features, we've put together a short list of the commercially-available models in our page of Wright Flyer Models. There are several wooden and plastic kits to choose from, as well as a selection of both simple and complex models.

And should you want to build a Flyer model from scratch, we also provide a set of measured drawings that are detailed enough for most modelers. They are, in fact, detailed enough to build a model for tests in a small wind tunnel, if you really want to impress your teacher or judges.

If you aren't the hands-on sort that enjoys building models, maybe you'd like a virtual model for your report or project. We've built a detailed, accurate digital replica of the 1903 Wright Flyer I and embedded it in a 3D PDF file. This file can be viewed with Adobe Acrobat Reader 9.0 and later. (If you don't already have a copy of Acrobat Reader or want to update your software, you can download the latest version for free by clicking HERE.) Once you have up-to-date Reader, simply click on the link to 3D PDF Flyer file and it will load automatically with all the tools you need to  zoom, pan, slide, and turn the Flyer around. You can see it from all sides and angles, investigate every little part. It's thoroughly geeky -- your teacher should be suitably impressed. And if you're a teacher, this is a great educational aid. Project the model on a screen or smartboard and use it to explain how the Wright brothers developed the basic parts of the airplane.

Measured drawings of the Flyer.

Click HERE to download a copy of the WBAC 1903 Wright Flyer I 3D PDF (about 11.8 Mb).

Wright flyer Plans and Drawings

The Wright Flyer was an amazing machine that incorporated many innovative ideas that were cutting edge for the Wright brothers' day – variable-camber flight surfaces, aluminum block engine, flight recorder – the list goes on and on. Furthermore, it was the first powered aircraft ever to have three-axis aerodynamic controls and it's not immediately apparent how these work. To explain how to fly the airplane and to point out the technology that made it work, it often helps to have a few drawings to which you can refer. We've brought together a selection of standard and perspective views at Wright Plans and Drawings so you can choose the drawings that best suit your needs.

Center section of the 1903 Wright Flyer.

Wright Expert Interview

We get hundreds of requests from students for interviews, mostly for "History Day" projects or other academic programs. Unfortunately, we don't have the time or manpower to grant them all. What we have done is to round up the "frequently asked questions" that we have heard during previous student interviews. Then we submitted them to our director, Nick Engler. You can read his answers HERE. Please borrow whatever quotes you need from this published interview for your project.

If you have a question that Mr. Engler has not answered, or you would like him to provide a more detailed explanation for a question that he has already answered, please contact us and submit your request. Mr. Engler has promised to expand this published interview as he gets more questions.

Important Note: You might also want to take advantage of an interview with the Wright brothers themselves. See Kate Carew's Interview in Aviation's Attic.


Information and Brochures

Oftentimes, students write to us asking for printed information and brochures. We don't have any to send you. While we understand that having printed information to display scores points with teachers and History Day judges, we don't have the time or the money to print stuff and mail it. We have put all our effort into building this web site and making it one of the most informative and complete resources on pioneer aviation on the Internet. The information may not be printed, but it's all here. That said, we have put together four concise, informative pieces that you might show to teachers and judges. They are in PDF format and you'll have to download and print them yourself if you need to show them on paper. They are:


Web Site Citation

If you need to cite this web site as one of your research sources, you can assume that unless otherwise noted,  the sponsor/owner is Bookworks, Inc., the publisher that sponsors this site. The pages were published between 1998 and the present time, although we don't commonly list the date of publication for each page. The author/editor is usually Nick Engler, our resident archaeologist and webmaster. But we have many pages that have been contributed by other people, even a few that were written by the Wright brothers themselves. Look for the by-line, usually just under the title of the page. Or there may be a paragraph in brackets from the editor that names the author is and tells a little bit about them.

According the the MLA (Modern Language Association), a web citation should include these elements:

  • Author or editor's name, last name first, if available.
  • Title of the article or web page in quotation marks.
  • Web site name, italicized.
  • Edition or version number, if any.
  • Date of publication, as precise as possible. List as day-month-year (e.g. 15 July 2009), just the year (e.g 2009) or "n.d." if there is no precise date available.
  • The word "Web"  to indicate the medium.
  • The owner, publisher or sponsor of the web site.
  • The date you accessed the site and a period. Once again, follow the standard day-month-year format.
  • If required, the full web address in angle brackets (< >).
  • Separate each bit of information with a period and put a period at the end of the citation.

For example, if you were to cite this web page, the citation should look like this:

Engler, Nick. "Help with Homework." Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company. n.d. Bookworks, Inc. Web. 15 July 2009.<>.

Copyright Notice: Although we encourage you to make use of the information and images in this section, you must respect them as copyrighted property. We have provided this section as an educational service to students, teachers, and scholars and you may use the text, photos, and drawings freely in educational venues (student papers, class projects, History Day displays, etc.) provided they are not mass-produced. If your project requires publication in an electronic media, such as a school web site, you must cite us as your source and provide a hyperlink to the Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company web site, Several of the publications in this section include our trademark logo, and this logo may not be used outside these specific publications without written permission of the trademark owner, nor may the publications be duplicated without the trademark. All other uses of the text and images, whether for profit, commerce, advertisement, information, design, or mass media (such as, but not limited to, documentaries, non-school web sites, and textbooks) are forbidden without written permission of the copyright owner.

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