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

“If I were giving a young man advice as to how he might succeed in life, I would say to him, pick out a good father and mother, and begin life in Ohio.” Wilbur Wright

Highlights and Study Questions for Chapter 1

  1. For sure your family of origin and place of birth has an influence on your success in life. Having two good parents is better than one or none, and being born in America or Western countries is a distinct advantage. Notice, though, that Wilbur Wright did not mention economic circumstances. There were different strata in his day as well. The Wrights did their best and worked hard six days a week. What do you think of this quote?
  2. The following things were said of the Wrights’ character: “never rattled”, genuinely modest, etc. What other character qualities did you notice from Chapter 1?
  3. What do you think of their remarkable partnership? They had a joint bank account, pooling their resources, often had sharp disagreements yet remained good friends, like twin brothers with different personalities.
  4. Will, Orv and Katie to their friends, Katherine was their younger sister, a schoolteacher who would play a large role in their aviation later on. Reuchlin and Lorin, two older brothers, were married with children and also lived in Dayton. Their mother, Susan Koerner Wright, the daughter of a German wagon maker, died on July 4, 1889 from tuberculosis. Their father, Bishop Milton Wright, was born in an Indiana log cabin (like Abraham Lincoln in Kentucky) in 1828. Milton Wright began preaching in the United Brethren Church at age 22. The denomination was known for its passion for causes like the abolition of slavery, women’s rights. They also opposed Freemasonry and its secretive ways. Masons were a larger fraternal organization in that era than today. Any thoughts on point 4?
  5. Milton and Susan married in 1859, lived on a farm near Fairmount, Indiana near the Ohio border, and moved to a 5 room farmhouse in Millville, Indiana in 1867, where Susan gave birth to Wilbur on April 16. A good day to remember after paying taxes and the anniversary of the Titanic sinking, don’t you think?
  6. Fun fact: August 19 is the birthday of both Orville and Katherine Wright, and is celebrated as National Aviation Day. This year it was on the Friday before the Woodward Dream Cruise. Next year’s Dream Cruise falls on August 19. What do you think could be done to honor them at the Cruise?
  7. A serious injury while playing hockey shattered his teeth, health and turned Wilbur into a recluse at 18 while recuperating, later caring for his mother as her health deteriorated. What do you think of this tragic incident, the family’s reaction to it and their response to Wilbur?
  8. Books and reading were a huge part of the Wright family. What do you think of Bishop Wright having a book by the agnostic Robert Ingersoll on his shelf and apparently being OK with the boys not attending church any longer? He is portrayed as indifferent to the spiritual condition of his sons. “Interestingly, for all the Bishop’s dedication to church work, religion was scarcely ever mentioned in his letters to his children, or in what they wrote to him.” I am curious if this is accurate… Perhaps it was a heartache for him, never discussed in letters, but only face to face. Or perhaps he thought they should make their own decisions regarding belief and practice.
  9. Orville started his own print shop and local newspaper while still in high school. How does this parallel some modern entrepreneurs?
  10. Bicycling became very popular during this time period. Most people were in favor of it because it was good exercise, though some frowned on it, like the automobile later on, because it could take young people away from their families. What do you think of this?
  11. The Wright brothers started their own bicycle business, selling the “Van Cleve” bicycle, named after their great-great grandmother. At $60-65 and 20 pounds, it was priced competitively with many models which sold for around $100:

A standard 1894 Monarch safety bicycle, the Model 10, weighed 22 pounds and sold for $100. The 18-pound racing Model 12 sold for $125 and featured metal toe clips for bicycle shoes.          The Wrights sold 150 bikes per year in their second year in business. Here are two other bicycling links:

  1. http://www.ibike.org/library/history-timeline.htm
  2. http://www.annielondonderry.com/womenWheels.html

September 2 discussion:

  1. Everyone agreed that coming from a good family with both parents in the home is a distinct advantage. Demographics matters as well, but history is full of rich kids not making much of themselves and poor kids making good. Maybe the biggest barrier is in your mind and the subculture you grew up in, if you’re blessed to be born in America or a Western country.
  2. One member commented that the Wright brothers behaved in many ways like a married couple, having a joint bank account. They had vigorous discussions and sometimes adopted the other’s position after some time away to think about it.
  3. Some issues, like women’s rights, are enduring, while other controversies, like the Masons go away. I did not know my grandfather was a Mason until his funeral. He never talked about it, was not an active member in retirement, and his original church denomination frowned on it.
  4. This reminds me of the robot calendar project our FIRST Robotics team put together in the early 1990s with inventors and inventions highlighted. If we were to do another calendar someday, Wilbur Wright’s birthday, April 16, would certainly be on it.
  5. Perhaps the Oakland County Airport could partner with the Dream Cruise to add aviation to the themes. After all, airplanes now have wheels (the original Wright Flyer had skids), just like the bicycles that participate at the north end of the loop (Pontiac Light Riders). Pontiac, the oldest inland city in the state, traded the Lafayette Grand building (a former Masonic lodge) for what is now the Oakland County Airport back when it was still a small airport. The airport proudly displays its original license signed by the Wright Brothers, Number 001, at least as of several years ago.
  6. Thoughts: Adversity can cause you to reconsider the path you’re on. Having a close family to support you is a big help. Sometimes inventions come from doodling during periods of forced boredom (e.g., waiting for a child to wake up from a nap at camp). One member gets creative ideas when coming out of migraine headaches.
  7. This generated a lot of discussion. A variety of opinions were expressed, ranging from it’s a bad idea to have books which disagree with your family’s values on your bookshelf, to you want your kids to decide for themselves about matters of faith (they will anyway), to having a broad range of books like Thomas Jefferson is a good thing. My view is that parents who have a strong Christian faith usually care deeply that their children come to faith and grow as Christians. This can happen best by leading by example in ethics and morals, taking them to church when they’re young, and praying for them. The Wrights certainly had Christian ethics in the way they treated others, so the Christian values from their upbringing stuck with them.
  8. Entrepreneurs often start many different types of businesses before finding one that is their passion. The printing presses used for the Wright’s newspapers would have had lots of mechanisms that probably influenced their later inventions: counter-rotating propellers which avoided the gyroscopic effect, for example.
  9. Bicycles were viewed as taking unmarried young people away from their families, possibly getting into trouble. Amish people originally avoided using cars for the same reason, and because it disrupts the community life, taking people away from their families and church communities. Amish people use phones, but make an appointment to do so, and don’t face the interruptions of a cell phone during a conversation. Modern people need to adjust to the new electronic hand-held devices that can harm face-to-face interaction for long-distance relationships over the internet.
  10. Bicycles were pretty expensive in those days! (compared to annual income) A $100 bicycle would cost $2700 today, and a $60 bike would be $1600. Most goods are much cheaper now. The Wright Brothers’ bicycle’s 20 lb weight was competitive with modern bikes, although modern bikes have more gears and other amenities. Follow the links from questions 12 & 13 for more bicycle information.

Note that this is not meant to be a summary of each chapter but rather questions designed to spark interesting discussion. Several innovative community development ideas were shared over breakfast.

Hopefully these notes encourage 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.

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 September 23, 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!