The Woodward Breakfast and Book Club held its third meeting September 23, 2016. Here are the notes from Chapter 2 of our book study of the Wright Brothers biography:

“I wish to avail myself of all that is already known….on the problem of mechanical and human flight… I wish to obtain such papers as the Smithsonian Institution has published on this subject, and if possible a list of other works in print in the English language.” Wilbur Wright letter to Smithsonian, May 30, 1899

Highlights and Study Questions for Chapter 2

  1. While Orville lay sick with typhoid in summer 1896, Wilbur read of Otto Lielenthal’s death in a glider accident. Lielenthal had written, “It must not remain our desire only to acquire the art of the bird. It is our duty not to rest until we have attained a perfect scientific conception of the problem of flight.” During five years of gliding experiments, Lielenthal had spent only five hours in actual flight. He sought to control the motion of the glider by positioning his body, much as hang glider pilots do today. What struck you from reading about Otto Lielenthal? Do you think his death influenced the Wright brothers’ concern for safety?
  2. In response to his historic letter to the Smithsonian, Wilbur received a list of books and a supply of Smithsonian pamphlets on aviation. Especially helpful were the writings of Octave Chanute, a French-born American civil engineer who had made gliders his specialty, and Samuel Langley, astronomer and head of the Smithsonian. What do you think of Wilbur Wright’s letters to experts in his desired field of study? How would you describe them?
  3. Page 31 describes a forty-year flood in Dayton which occurred in 1898. 500 men worked on building the levees. The Wrights helped a local hardware dealer empty barrels of nails from the cellar of his store without accepting pay – the story wasn’t told until many years later. It’s the kind of thing that people do to help each other. Can you think of a time when people pitched in to help in your community?
  4. Popular opinion and the newspapers mocked those who tried to fly. In the 1890s, a San Francisco Chronicle report described “the flying-machine crank” as one who with advancing age, gets increasingly foolish to the point of “imbecility.” The U.S. Patent Office was flooded with outlandish flying machine inventions. After reporting on one of them, the Washington Post later wrote, “It is a fact that man can’t fly.” Popular for over thirty years, the comic poem about “Darius Green and his Flying Machine” made fun of a farm boy who tried to fly in a barn loft. “The birds can fly and why can’t I? Could blue-bird and phoebe, be smarter than we be?” How did the Wrights and other aviation enthusiasts respond to this? Are there any modern day parallels?
  5. Despite all the skepticism about human flight, this era was full of inventions: George Eastman invented the Kodak box camera, Isaac Singer, the first electric sewing machine, the Otis Company installed the first elevator in a New York office building, etc. Dayton ranked first in the nation per capita in the creation of new patents. What would it be like to live in an 1890s city producing railroad cars, cash registers, sewing machines, gun barrels and inventions?
  6. The Smithsonian gave Wilbur Wright an English translation of “Empire de L’Air” written in 1881 by Louis Mouillard. Mounsieur Mouillard wrote regarding the soaring vultures of North Africa, “He knows how to rise, how to float… to sail upon the wind without effort… he sails and spends no force… he uses the wind, instead of his muscles.” This, said Mouillard, would “lead men to navigate the immensity of space.” What other things have people been able to learn by studying animals, plants and other phenomena in nature?
  7. According to Wilbur and Orville Wright, reading the works of Lilienthal and Mouillard had “infected us with their own unquenchable enthusiasm and transformed idle curiosity into the active zeal of workers.” Have you ever read a book, biography or article which has inspired you into taking action?
  8. Wilbur Wright also wrote letters to Octave Chanute regarding aviation. He wrote the U.S. Weather Bureau about a suitable windy place to fly, then received an encouraging letter from the former postmaster at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The letter to Chanute started a long, fruitful correspondence with many new contacts. The Weather Bureau letter led to Kitty Hawk, windy sandy beaches, and the rest is history. Have you written letters or emails that have had an impact on implementing an idea?
  9. What other ideas struck you from this chapter?

September 23 discussion:

  1. Here’s a link to the Otto Lielenthal Museum in Germany, opened on the 100th anniversary of his first glider flights. Photos of Lielenthal are archived here. With permission from the museum, Johannes Hogebrink pieced them together to make a two-minute film clip. The Wright brothers took photographs of birds, landscapes and their flying machines. Their concern for safety led them to meticulously inspect their gliders & planes prior to flight, to never fly together in their two passenger planes, and to constantly reassure their father of their safety precautions.
  2. People were impressed with Wilbur Wright’s letters. They were direct, to the point, expansive in scope, yet asked specific questions. They got results, too!
  3. Examples of communities pitching in include the recent flooding in Royal Oak, hurricane cleanup in many areas of the country, use of snowblowers for neighbors’ walks after blizzards (not so much in recent years as people seem to be more self-reliant), and loaning of a portable generator from a small company to employees who needed it during power outages. I like to ask people how they like working at their employer. Some people say, “It’s a job.” Others speak ill of their employer, which makes me not want to shop there. The sales guy at Weingartz mentioned the good salary and benefits he’d gotten for about ten years, plus the owner had sent their stock of portable generators to Quebec to help out another company supplying a massive power outage there. When he asked about saving some in case of a blizzard and power outage here and the potential of lost sales, the owner replied that people needed the generators there and Weingartz could risk the lost business until being resupplied.
  4. The Wrights and other aviation enthusiasts had their own clubs, much like people who are interested in human space exploration of Mars today and computer clubs in the 1970s in California. A successful business owner and entrepreneur in the group likes to ask this question of other innovators: “How many of you have had close friends, people you trusted, tell you that you were crazy for your now-successful idea?” Invariably, the majority of hands in the room go up.
  5. It was probably like working in metro Detroit today, with Research and Development spending in this region second only to U.S. defense spending. The auto industry is predicted to undergo lots of change and innovation in the next ten years, with electrification of vehicles, alternative propulsion systems like fuel cells, and efforts to meet the government fuel economy standards sparking innovation in conventional engines and transmissions. Autonomous vehicles and innovations in lighting, tires, braking, and other safety features abound. Robotics helps manufacture all these things with higher quality. And that is just one industry; Detroit is diversifying, with high-end goods (including bicycles!) made by Shinola being manufactured here as well. One group member enjoys driving into random industrial parks on vacation to see what they are making.
  6. Six axis CNC robots are modeled after the human hand and arm. Bone structures of humans and animals have inspired numerous inventions and innovations. Woodpecker heads and necks have influenced helmet design.
  7. One group member received an article encouraging her to pursue a college education, that children tend to value education if their parents do. We all shared favorite books or whole sections of the library that provided background information or just an ability to read that served them well later in life. Reading “How Many Hills to Hillsboro?” as a child and “Adventure Cycling in Europe” when I got serious about bike touring later on sparked my lifelong hobby of bicycling.
  8. This prompted discussion that people do not write as thoughtfully with a computer with its easy erasing / corrections as with a typewriter or pen and ink. Wendell Berry continued to do his writing with a typewriter long after most writers switched to the computer.

Note that this is not meant to be a summary of each chapter but rather questions designed to spark interesting discussion. Hopefully it encourages you to get this great book and read it for yourself.

More details about the Woodward Breakfast and Book Club (our first book is the Wright Brothers biography by David McCullough), and what we hope to accomplish are in this blog post.

The notes from the first meeting are here and notes from Chapter One are here.

We hope everyone enjoyed the Woodward Dream Cruise. The epicenter of next year’s Cruise may move to Pontiac; good news for Pontiac!

If you can’t attend the next meeting October 14,  6:30-7:30 a.m., Niki’s Restaurant, Royal Oak, please leave your ideas in the comments or send us an email. You don’t need to live in the metro Detroit area to participate. So far we have Woodward Breakfast & Book Club members from Arizona, New York and Germany. Thanks for sharing your ideas with us!

Other articles

In previous blog posts, I began telling the story of my brain tumor and the depressionwhich followed it. The second article in the series described my faith in God which sustained me through both trials.

Having recently started a word-by-word translation of Martin Luther’s Bible from German to English, I introduced the project and published Matthew Chapter 1 . Later I wrote commentary on it; my church background and theological training is in my USA Melting Pot bio.

Dale Murrish writes on historytraveltechnologyreligion and politics for the Troy Patch and USA Melting Pot club. You can help this non-profit club by making your Amazon purchases through the link on the left side of their website. You can also see over a dozen ethnic presentations from people with firsthand knowledge under Culture & Country (right hand side), and outdoor presentations (Hobby & Fun), including posts on bicycling, skiing and camping.

Other interesting articles on the USA Melting Pot website have been written by Bilal Rathur on his hajj to Saudi Arabia (Part 6) and by Carl Petersen. Thanks to both of them for their contributions.