I’ve just finished reading “The Bishops Boys” – a biography of the Wright Brothers, and the invention of the airplane. I bought this book while visiting the Smithsonian in Washington 25 years ago, and have read it a few times. I visited Dayton in 2012 and saw a few places mentioned in the book, such as Huffman Prairie and their bicycle shop.
It’s quite a good read, I especially enjoyed the story of how they “engineered” the aeroplane. For example systematic wind tunnel tests of various wing surfaces, appreciation of the need for control in the roll axis, and calculations of the thrust required for a powered craft. At the time everyone else was using guesswork.
The picture painted of nineteenth century suburban life was also interesting, quite similar to our own. One big difference was the number of people (indeed many of the Wright family) dying from infectious disease at relatively young ages. In the developed world we have made huge advances in public sanitation, antibiotics, and vaccinations.
However I am critical of the Wrights “patent wars”. They spent many years trying to sell their technology and fighting patent infringement, which slowed down development of the art, particular in pre WW1 USA. The stress and fatigue of the legal battles contributed to the early death of Wilbur Wright. The Wrights themselves were slow to employ the useful technology of others (rear elevator, wheels, intuitive cockpit controls), as they considered them infringers. They weren’t motivated by money, more by principle, and had been brought up with a family history of courtroom drama.
I feel the “open source” approach is much better – share the IP, combine your contribution with that of others, and nudge the entire world forward. A useful lesson.