WrightBrothersThe All Good Books group will meet this Thursday, June 8, 2017 at 7 PM at the Community of Christ Congregation, 7842 Mission Road, Prairie Village, KS. We will discuss “The Wright Brothers” by David McCullough. The following are some suggested questions to kick off the discussion.

  1. How would you describe the Wright brothers; who was older? Describe their dress, work habits, politics and social skills?
  2. What did the author mean by saying that Katherine could turn “wrathy?”
  3. What did you discover about Wilbur and Orville’s father?
  4. Do you agree with Bishop Wright’s advice to his sons when he said, “It is assumed that young folks know best, and old folks are fogies. It may be so, but old folks may be as right about new fangles as young folks are about fogy ways. 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.” (Page 13-14)
  5. What’s your reaction to the story of Oliver Crook Haugh and Wilbur Wright? (Page 14) Were you aware of that part of Wilbur’s history?
  6. While many were in favor of the newfangled bicycle, other “voices were raised in protest. Bicycles were proclaimed morally hazardous. Until now children and youth were unable to stray very far from home on foot. Now, one magazine warned, fifteen minutes could put them miles away. Because of bicycles, it was said, young people were not spending the time they should with books, and more seriously that suburban and country tours on bicycles were ‘not infrequently accompanied by seductions.’” (Page 22) Do you see any parallels to technological advances in the late 20th Century and early 21st Century?
  7. What caused Wilbur to write to his Father, “In business it is the aggressive man, who continually has his eye on his own interest, who succeeds [he wrote]. Business is merely a form of warfare in which each combatant strives to get the business away from his competitors and at the same time keep them from getting what he already has. No man has ever been successful in business who was not aggressive, self-assertive and even a little bit selfish perhaps. There is nothing reprehensible in an aggressive disposition, so long as it is not carried to excess, for such men make the world and its affairs move. . . . I entirely agree that the boys of the Wright family are all lacking in determination and push. That is the very reason that none of us have been or will be more than ordinary businessmen.” (Page 24) Did Wilbur’s prediction hold true?
  8. The writings of Octave Chanute, a celebrated French-born American civil engineer (bridge and railroad builder) and Samuel Pierpont Langley, creator of the pilotless “aerodrome,” and backed by the Smithsonian, were helpful to the Wright brothers according to the author. How much of a debt do the Wright brothers owe to these pioneers? What do you remember about their relationships with each man?
  9. Have you heard stories that the Wright brothers were really not the first to succeed in human flight? How does the author treat these claims?
  10. According to the author, “All the same, and importantly, the times were alive with invention, technical innovations, new ideas of every kind. George Eastman had introduced the “Kodak” box camera; Isaac Merritt Singer, the first electric sewing machine; the Otis Company had installed the world’s first elevator in a New York office building; the first safety razor, the first mousetrap, the first motor cars built in America—all in the dozen years since Orville started his print shop and Wilbur emerged from his spell of self-imposed isolation.” (Page 35) Is that atmosphere of constant innovation past for America? Why or why not?
  11. How did the Wright brothers decide on Kitty Hawk as the location for their tests? What were they looking for? (Page 40). Where was Kitty Hawk located? Was that the hometown of the Wright brothers?
  12. Who or what were the “skeeters” that arrived on Kitty Hawk on July 18, 1901? (Page 58)
  13. Who stated in 1901, that “not in a thousand years would man ever fly…?” (Page 64)
  14. What events in the history of flight and the lives of Wilbur and Orville Wright were you surprised to discover from the book by McCullough?
  15. What momentous claim could John T. Daniels make? (page 106)
  16. On page 107 the author states, “incidentally, the Langley project had cost nearly $70,000, the greater part of it public money, whereas the brothers’ total expenses for everything from 1900 to 1903, including materials and travel to and from Kitty Hawk, came to a little less than $1,000, a sum paid entirely from the modest profits of their bicycle business.” Is that kind of individually funded entrepreneurship possible today? Likely?
  17. Why do you think the U.S. War Department was so slow to show any interest in the Wright brother’s flying machine? (Page 122-123)
  18. Were you aware that Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge, a twenty-six-year-old West Point graduate had flown with Orville and died in a crash that almost killed Orville? What are your thoughts on Selfridge and the incident? How badly injured was Orville? What caused the accident? (Page 190-192)
  19. When Wilbur started giving rides in his two-seater, what was the criterion for filling the empty seat? (Page 223)
  20. Were you surprised by the legal battles that ensued over the Wright brother’s patents? React to the following quote from McCullough’s “Epilogue.” “Of far the greatest importance to both (Wilbur and Orville)—more than the money at stake—was to secure just and enduring credit for having invented the airplane. It was their reputation at stake and that mattered most. Their pride of achievement, quite understandably, was great. Eventually nine suits were brought by them, three brought against them. Over time they won every case in the American courts.”