Both North Carolina and Ohio can lay claim to the title “birthplace of aviation”, but the modern airplane’s contrails lead back to Indiana.
True, Orville and Wilbur Wright launched the first powered aircraft on the Outer Banks of North Carolina in 1903, having developed the historic glider in their Dayton, Ohio bike shop. But the brothers had deep roots in Indiana.
Their parents, Milton and Susan Wright, both grew up on Indiana farms, only to meet at Hartville College, an institution founded in Bartholomew County in 1850 by a Midwestern Protestant denomination, the Church of the United Brethren in Christ.
Milton Wright became an itinerant minister for the church, an ardent Abolitionist and temperance crusader who raised his children in an atmosphere of intellectual inquiry, complemented by their mother’s mechanical aptitude.
Born in the Henry County town of Millville in 1867, Wilbur Wright was a studious and athletic child. After attending Richmond High School for four years, Wilbur was forced to leave before graduating when the family resettled in Dayton, Ohio. Convalescing from an accident and subsequently caring for his dying mother prevented Wilbur from matriculating at Yale, as he’d planned.
In the 1890s, however, Wilbur teamed up with brother Orville to ride the bicycle craze that was sweeping the country, manufacturing a couple of popular two-wheeled models out of their Dayton shop.
Inspired by the contemporary aeronautical experimentations of Lilienthal , Langley and Chanute, the sky was, eventually, the limit, for the brothers’ mechanical innovation.
The Wrights’ Indiana homestead in Millville is preserved as a historic house museum open to visitors April through November. The Wilbur Wright Birthplace Festival is held each year in June.