#28 The Wright Brothers

Summary Notes


David Senra, host of the "Founders" podcast, delves into the biographies of entrepreneurs to extract valuable lessons. Inspired by Elon Musk's preference for biographies over business books, Senra shares insights from "The Wright Brothers" by David McCullough, emphasizing the themes of unyielding determination and the value of self-education. The Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur, overcame a lack of formal education and resources, relying instead on their passion for flight, meticulous experimentation, and learning from their own trials. They also capitalized on the public's fascination with flight by performing demonstrations that drew massive crowds, proving that controlled, powered flight was possible and sparking a transformation in transportation. Senra also highlights the importance of heroes, focus, and ignoring critics in the pursuit of innovation.

Summary Notes

Early Influences on Orville Wright

  • Orville Wright showed early signs of ingenuity, tinkering with wood at his desk in grade school.
  • He expressed to his teacher his ambition to create a flying machine with his brother.

"Orbel's first teacher in grade school would remember him at his desk tinkering with bits of wood. Asked what he was up to, he told her he was making a machine of a kind, that he and his brother were going to fly someday."

This quote demonstrates Orville Wright's early fascination with flight and machinery, which foreshadowed his future achievements in aviation.

Founders Podcast Inspiration and Purpose

  • David Senra was inspired to start the "Founders" podcast by Elon Musk’s preference for biographies as a source of learning for entrepreneurs.
  • The podcast aims to share insights and lessons from the biographies of various founders.

"I got the idea for this podcast from listening to another podcast years ago. Even Elon Musk was being interviewed and said something that stuck with me. He was asked, when starting a company, who did you look to for advice? Elon said he looked for feedback and a historical context. Books, basically, he continued, I didn't read many general business books. I liked biographies and autobiographies. I think those are pretty helpful. So that made me think, if Elon found biographies useful, why not start reading them all the time?"

The quote highlights the influence of Elon Musk's approach to learning on David Senra's decision to create a podcast focused on the biographies of founders.

Audible Promotion

  • The podcast episode includes a promotion for Audible, offering a free audiobook and membership benefits.

"Audible is offering listeners of this podcast a free audiobook just for trying audible, you get 30 days of membership free, plus an audiobook to get you started. And after that you get one credit a month, good for any book, regardless of price."

This quote serves as an advertisement for Audible, emphasizing the benefits that listeners of the podcast can receive by signing up.

Entrepreneurship and the Wright Brothers

  • Entrepreneurship is equated with action, as exemplified by the Wright brothers’ unyielding determination and hard work.
  • The Wright brothers were known for their unity of purpose and continuous labor towards their goals.

"Entrepreneurship is action. And let's go right to the book. It says, to judge by the expressions on their faces, they had little, if any, sense of humor, which was hardly the case. Neither liked to have his picture taken. Truth to tell, one reporter wrote, the camera is no friend either to the brothers. But what is most uncharacteristic about the pose is that they are sitting and doing nothing, something they almost never succumbed to."

The quote reflects the Wright brothers' dedication and continuous effort, rarely pausing from their work, which is a hallmark of their entrepreneurial spirit.

Father's Influence on the Wright Brothers

  • The Wright brothers were guided by their father’s advice on prioritizing business and financial independence.

"Make business first, pleasure afterward, and that guarded all the money anyone needs is just enough to prevent one from being a burden on others."

This quote encapsulates the practical and self-reliant philosophy imparted by the Wrights' father, which influenced their approach to life and business.

Wilbur Wright’s Turning Point

  • A tragic accident in Wilbur Wright’s youth led him to a period of reclusion and intense reading, which contributed to his interest in flight.

"Wilbur was smashed in the face with a stick, knocking out most of his upper front teeth... After the accident, Wilbur remained a recluse, more or less homebound for fully three years, three years when he began reading as never before."

The quote describes a pivotal moment in Wilbur Wright's life, where an injury led to a period of seclusion and intellectual growth that played a role in his eventual pursuit of aviation.

Importance of Reading

  • The podcast emphasizes the transformative power of reading, contrasting it with the fleeting satisfaction of social media.
  • The Wright family valued reading as a form of education and personal development.

"The Wright family book collection, however, was neither modest nor commonplace... Between formal education at school and informal education at home, it would seem he put more value on the latter."

This quote underlines the Wright family's emphasis on self-education through reading, which was encouraged by the family patriarch and had a profound impact on the brothers' intellectual development.

Personal Philosophy and Learning

  • The Wright brothers were encouraged to think independently and reject dogma, adopting a philosophy of first principles thinking.

"Every mind should be true to itself, should think, investigate, and conclude for itself."

The quote captures the essence of the Wright family's intellectual ethos, promoting critical thinking and self-reliance in forming conclusions and beliefs.

Trial and Error in Innovation

  • The Wright brothers' approach to flight was grounded in empirical testing and learning from direct experience rather than solely relying on theoretical knowledge.

"And what happens is they take off and immediately crash. And this whole sentence where it says 'Every mind should be true to itself, should think, investigate, include to itself.' That theme comes up over and over and over again in the book, from inventing the flyer."

This quote illustrates the importance of practical experimentation in the Wright brothers' process of invention, highlighting their commitment to learning from real-world trials rather than just theoretical calculations.

Evolution of the Wright Brothers' Business Ventures

  • The Wright brothers transitioned from tinkering with gliders to creating a machine-powered aircraft, and eventually built a company around their invention.
  • They started with a small side business that funded their aeronautical experiments.
  • The side business grew as they shifted from selling other people's products to developing and selling their own bicycle models.
  • They were able to fund their experiments with the profits from their bicycle shop, which continued to operate even while they were away conducting flight tests.

"These were inventors and tinkerers, and all of a sudden, they had the world's most valuable product, and they had to navigate and how to become high level businessmen."

The quote explains the transformation of the Wright brothers from inventors to high-level businessmen due to the success and value of their aeronautical inventions.

"That sustained all these experiments, but they would never operate at such a scale before, and they were able to navigate that successfully because they believed in their own thought processes."

The Wright brothers' confidence in their thought processes and ability to apply them into action enabled them to successfully scale up their operations, despite never having operated at such a level before.

Humble Beginnings and Resourcefulness

  • The Wright brothers had humble beginnings, with simple living conditions and limited resources.
  • They showed early signs of entrepreneurship and resourcefulness, starting a newspaper and operating a print shop while still in high school.
  • Their resourcefulness is exemplified by Orville designing and building his own printing press from various discarded materials.

"While still in high school, Orville started his own print shop in the carriage shed behind the house."

Orville Wright's entrepreneurial spirit is evident from his early venture of starting a print shop while still in high school, demonstrating resourcefulness and initiative.

"The brothers were well into their 20s before there was running water or plumbing in the house."

This quote highlights the modest living conditions of the Wright brothers during their formative years, which did not hinder their inventive pursuits.

The Bicycle Shop and its Role in Aviation Development

  • The Wright brothers capitalized on the bicycle trend by opening their own bicycle shop, which was crucial in funding their aviation experiments.
  • They eventually created their own model of bicycles, which became the primary source of income for their business.
  • The bicycle shop continued to operate and generate profits even when the Wright brothers were away, thanks to their hiring of help to run the shop in their absence.

"Creating the first non human powered flight machine was they saw a trend with bicycles, and they decided to open their own bicycle shop."

The Wright brothers' ability to recognize and act on the bicycle trend led to the establishment of a business that ultimately funded their pioneering work in aviation.

"They invented their own model of bicycles and started selling them directly."

The Wright brothers' innovation extended beyond aviation; they also designed and sold their own bicycles, demonstrating their entrepreneurial skills.

The Importance of Heroes and Inspirational Figures

  • The Wright brothers, like many innovators, were inspired by predecessors in their field.
  • They studied the work of others, such as German glider enthusiast Otto Lilienthal, to inform their own experiments.
  • Inspirational figures and heroes can provide motivation and a sense of direction for aspiring entrepreneurs and inventors.

"Wilbur had begun reading about the German glider enthusiast Otto Lilienthal, who had recently been killed in an accident."

Otto Lilienthal's work in gliding significantly influenced the Wright brothers and sparked their intense interest in flight.

"It is our duty not to rest until we have attained a perfect scientific conception of the problem of flight."

The Wright brothers were driven by a duty to fully understand and solve the problem of flight, as evidenced by their study of Lilienthal's work and philosophy.

Revisiting Old Ideas and Continuous Learning

  • The process of learning and innovation involves revisiting and reinterpreting old ideas with new perspectives.
  • The Wright brothers' interest in flight was rekindled by revisiting past readings and learning about the tragic death of their hero, Otto Lilienthal.
  • Continuous learning and re-examination of ideas can lead to new insights and advancements.

"The news of Lilienthal's death, Wilbur later wrote, aroused in him as nothing had an interest that had remained passive from childhood."

The quote demonstrates how external events, such as the death of Otto Lilienthal, can reignite a latent passion and lead to a renewed pursuit of knowledge.

"Now he read it anew."

Wilbur Wright's re-engagement with previous readings on flight signifies the importance of revisiting knowledge to gain deeper insights or find new inspiration.

Early Influences and Inspirations

  • The importance of literature in sparking interest and thinking in new ways.
  • The book mentioned was transformative for the individual, suggesting that it provided new perspectives and a shift in thinking.

"The book had opened his eyes and started him thinking in ways he'd never had."

This quote highlights the impact that a significant piece of literature can have on an individual's thought process, potentially altering their path or approach to a problem.

The Possibility of Flight

  • Predecessors to the Wright brothers in the field of flight were mentioned, including Lillenthal, Shanut, and Langley.
  • These individuals were notable engineers, scientists, and thinkers who attempted to solve the problem of controlled flight.
  • Despite their efforts, none succeeded in achieving controlled flight.

"Numbers of others, among them the most prominent engineers, scientists, and original thinkers of the 19th century, had been working on the problem of controlled flight..."

This quote underscores the historical context in which the Wright brothers were working, highlighting the efforts of many prominent figures who had tackled the problem of flight without success.

The Wright Brothers' Unwavering Determination

  • Wilbur and Orville Wright were undeterred by the failures of others or their own lack of formal education and resources.
  • They faced potential risks, including death, without financial or institutional support.
  • Their determination was highlighted as shocking and inspiring given the context of their limited means and the significant challenges they faced.

"In no way did any of this discourage or deter Wilbur or write any more than the fact that they had no college education..."

The quote emphasizes the Wright brothers' extraordinary determination and resilience in the face of numerous obstacles, which is a key aspect of their eventual success.

The Power of Books and Curiosity

  • Books played a crucial role in transforming the Wright brothers' idle curiosity into active engagement with the problem of flight.
  • The brothers requested and received materials from the Smithsonian, which further fueled their passion.
  • A particular book, "Empire of the Air," had a profound effect on Wilbur Wright, demonstrating the power of literature to inspire and motivate.

"Books transformed idle curiosity into the active zeal of workers."

This quote captures the transformative effect that reading and acquiring knowledge had on the Wright brothers, turning their casual interest into a dedicated pursuit.

The First Prototype

  • The Wright brothers built a full-size glider as their first prototype, showcasing their practical approach to solving the problem of flight.
  • The glider was constructed with modest resources and was tested at Kitty Hawk.
  • Their hands-on experimentation highlighted their innovative spirit and willingness to take risks.

"Its wingspan was 18ft. The total cost of all necessary pieces and parts, ribs of ash, wires and cloth to cover the wings, was not more than $15."

This quote provides details about the Wright brothers' first prototype, illustrating their resourcefulness and the DIY nature of their early experiments.

Approach to Risk and Learning

  • Wilbur Wright expressed a philosophy on risk-taking, emphasizing the importance of caution and learning from experience.
  • The Wright brothers' approach to learning involved direct engagement and experimentation rather than purely theoretical study.

"The man who wishes to keep at the problem long enough to really learn anything positively must not take dangerous risks."

This quote from Wilbur Wright outlines a balanced approach to risk, suggesting that sustained effort and learning from experience are crucial to making progress.

Overcoming Established Misconceptions

  • The Wright brothers discovered that established aeronautical data, which they initially took as reliable, was incorrect.
  • This realization forced them to conduct their own experiments and develop their own understanding of flight.
  • Their approach emphasized the importance of empirical evidence and first-hand discovery.

"We had to go ahead and discover everything ourselves."

Orville Wright's quote encapsulates the necessity of independent investigation and the limitations of relying solely on established authorities, which were a critical part of their journey to achieving flight.

Critics and Doubt

  • The Wright brothers faced skepticism and criticism from established figures, including Simon Newcombe.
  • Critics questioned the practicality and possibility of human flight, often dismissing the Wright brothers' efforts.
  • The narrative highlights the importance of perseverance and independent thought in the face of criticism.

"The first successful flyer will be the handiwork of a watchmaker and will carry nothing heavier than an insect."

This quote reflects the skepticism of the time, suggesting that even experts could underestimate the potential of new innovations, highlighting the Wright brothers' ability to prove critics wrong.

Hard Work and Success

  • The Wright brothers' dedication to their work was noted as exceptional.
  • Their hard work culminated in successful manned flights, demonstrating the tangible results of their years of effort.
  • The narrative emphasizes the value of persistence and the impact of sustained hard work on achieving success.

"Wilbur made one man flight after another. No count was kept. He did record, however, flights of 300 to 400ft in length and speeds on landing of nearly 30 miles an hour."

This quote details the Wright brothers' breakthrough achievements in flight, resulting from their relentless work ethic and dedication to solving the problem of controlled flight.

The Wright Brothers' Historic Flight

  • The Wright brothers' flight was a pivotal moment in history, marking the first time a piloted machine took off, flew, and landed under its own power.
  • Their success was in stark contrast to Samuel Langley's failure, despite his significant financial backing and public attention.
  • The Wright brothers' achievement was accomplished with modest resources from their bicycle business, highlighting the power of determination and resourcefulness.

"The flights that morning were the first ever in which a piloted machine took off under its own power into the air in full flight, sailed forward with no loss of speed, and landed at a point as high as that from which it started."

This quote emphasizes the unprecedented nature of the Wright brothers' accomplishment in aviation, marking the first successful powered flight.

Samuel Langley's Failure

  • Samuel Langley was a well-regarded scientist and thinker in the field of flight who received significant funding but failed to create a successful flying machine.
  • The Wright brothers' success was made more remarkable by the recent and very public failure of Langley's attempts.

"Samuel Langley's full-scale failure just days before made what they had done in their own all the more remarkable."

The quote highlights how the Wright brothers' achievement was underscored by the failure of a prominent figure in the field, enhancing the significance of their success.

Cost Comparison

  • The Wright brothers' project was notably cost-effective compared to Langley's expensive venture.
  • The brothers funded their work with less than $1,000 from their bicycle business profits, contrasting with the $70,000 spent on Langley's project, which was largely publicly funded.

"The Langley project had cost nearly $70,000, the greater part of it public money...the brothers' total expenses...came to a little less than $1,000, a sum paid entirely from the modest profits of their bicycle business."

This quote contrasts the financial efficiency of the Wright brothers with the expensive and unsuccessful efforts of Langley, showcasing the brothers' frugality and resourcefulness.

The Wright Brothers' Business Acumen

  • The Wright brothers demonstrated business savvy by securing a deal with French investors, guaranteeing $5,000 in escrow regardless of further negotiations.
  • Their frugality and focus were key to their financial management and success in the burgeoning field of aviation.

"For two, flying machine for $200,000...$5,000 was to be deposited in a New York bank in escrow...would more than cover all the expenses they had since first going to Kitty Hawk."

The quote reveals the Wright brothers' strategic financial planning, securing a deal that not only promised great profit but also covered all their past expenses.

Focus and Patience

  • Wilbur Wright's patience and attention to detail were instrumental in their success.
  • He resisted external pressures and took the time necessary to understand and address any issues with their flying machines.

"Neither the impatience of waiting crowds, nor the sneers of rivals, nor the pressure of financial conditions...could induce him to hurry over any difficulty before he had done everything in his power to understand and overcome it."

This quote reflects Wilbur Wright's meticulous approach to problem-solving and his refusal to rush the process despite various pressures, contributing to their achievements.

Marketing and Publicity

  • The Wright brothers gained attention through public demonstrations of their flying machines, drawing huge crowds and media coverage.
  • They effectively used these events as marketing tools to generate interest and sales for their aircraft.

"They built something that no one's ever seen...It becomes like a show...and the orders just roll in."

The quote describes how the Wright brothers leveraged the novelty of their invention to create public spectacles that drove media interest and increased demand for their flying machines.

Micromanagement and Safety

  • Wilbur Wright's meticulous management style, including personally handling maintenance tasks, was a response to safety concerns and was validated by a tragic accident involving his brother.
  • His approach was criticized by some but ultimately aimed at preventing mishaps and ensuring the reliability of their aircraft.

"People think I'm foolish because I do not like the men to do the least important work on the machine...I do it partly because it gives me opportunity to see if anything in the neighborhood is out of order."

This quote explains Wilbur Wright's hands-on approach to aircraft maintenance, emphasizing his commitment to thoroughness for the sake of safety and operational integrity.

The Desire to Fly

  • Wilbur Wright saw the public's enthusiasm for flight not just as a personal accolade but as a reflection of a deep-seated human aspiration to fly.
  • He connected this yearning to the ancestral human experience of observing birds and imagining the freedom of flight.

"In the enthusiasm being shown around me, I see not merely an outburst intended to glorify a person, but a tribute to an idea that has always impassioned mankind."

The quote captures Wilbur Wright's philosophical perspective on the achievement of flight, recognizing it as a fulfillment of a longstanding human dream.

Family Support and Pride

  • Bishop Wright, the brothers' father, expressed his support and belief in their endeavors throughout their journey.
  • His flight with Orville at the age of 82 symbolized both familial pride and the breaking of age barriers in aviation.

"Now. At 82, with the crowd cheering, he walked out to the starting point, where Orville, without hesitation, asked them to climb aboard...Bishop's only words were, 'Higher, Orville, higher.'"

This quote conveys the emotional moment of Bishop Wright's flight, illustrating the personal and familial significance of the Wright brothers' success.

The Wright Brothers' Legacy

  • The legacy of the Wright brothers extended to space exploration, with Neil Armstrong carrying a piece of their 1903 flyer to the moon as a tribute.
  • Their innovation and determination continue to inspire and are remembered as foundational to human flight and space travel.

"On July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong, another American born and raised in western Ohio, stepped onto the moon, he carried with him, in tribute to the Wright brothers, a small swatch of the Mussolin from a wing of their 1903 flyer."

The quote emphasizes the enduring impact of the Wright brothers' achievements, linking the first powered flight to the monumental first steps on the moon.

What others are sharing

Go To Library

Want to Deciphr in private?
- It's completely free

Deciphr Now
Footer background
Crossed lines icon
Crossed lines icon
Crossed lines icon
Crossed lines icon
Crossed lines icon
Crossed lines icon
Crossed lines icon

© 2024 Deciphr

Terms and ConditionsPrivacy Policy