The Wright Brothers narrative is so brilliantly written by historian David McCullough that the reader can imagine sitting in his library listening to his melodious voice tell a wonderful American story. McCullough never disappoints as he brings to life Wilbur and Orville, their sister Katherine and their father Bishop Wright and their early endeavor as builders of bicycles in Dayton, Ohio. The book is much more than the story of the invention of the airplane, although McCullough misses no detail in that pursuit.
I am an ardent fan of McCullough but must admit I thought, why bother with this book, I know the story of the Wright brothers. Never doubt McCullough’s ability to tell the whole story, including the U.S. Army Department’s ” flat turn down ” of a request by the Wright Brothers for government support for further testing of their heavier than air Flyer. They supplied documentation of 105 successful flights made in 1904, but to no avail in moving the American Military bureaucracy. Ironically, the Secretary of War at the time was Ohioan William Howard Taft. The British and the French were excited to consider the Wright’s requests. So the Wright Brothers and sister Katherine were off to Paris and LeMans astonishing Kings, Queens and cheering throngs with their accomplishment. Their reception was comparable to that afforded conquering heroes with private funding made immediately available.
In 1909, William Howard Taft, now President of the United States presented the Wright brothers gold medals. “I esteem it a great honor and opportunity to present these medals to you as evidence to what you have done. I am so glad-perhaps at a delayed hour-to show that in America it is not true that “a prophet is not without honor save in his own country.” A touch of irony indeed.