Wilbur Wright was born on April 16, 1867 in a small farm house near Millville, Indiana. He was the
third of seven children born to Milton Wright and Susan Catherine Koerner Wright (married in 1859).
Milton was a minister in the United Brethren Church, professor of theology, editor of his church
newspaper, and an elected Bishop in his church. Susan excelled in literature and science at
Hartville College, especially mathematics. She was quite skilled with hand tools and often built
household appliances and toys for her family. During his childhood, Wilbur developed many
technical skills and learned critical thinking, attributes that would eminate throughout his life.
Interestingly, none of the Wright children were given middle names. Instead, Milton and Susan tried hard to give them distinctive first names. Wilbur was named for Wilbur Fiske and Orville for Orville Dewey, both clergyman that Milton admired. They were "Will" and "Orv" to their friends, and "Ullam" and "Bubs" to each other.
In 1878 their father, who traveled often as a bishop in the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, brought home a toy "helicopter" for his two younger sons. The device was based on an invention of French aeronautical pioneer Alphonse Pénaud. Made of paper, bamboo and cork with a rubber band to twirl its rotor, it was about a foot long. Wilbur and Orville played with it until it broke, and then built their own. In later years, they pointed to their experience with the toy as the initial spark of their interest in flying.
Wilbur was an excellent student and athlete. He completed the requirements for a high school degree at Richmond High School in Richmond, Indiana, but never applied for a certificate, perhaps because his family moved to Dayton, OH just before graduation. In 1885, he took several college preparatory classes at Central High School in Dayton, Ohio with ambitions of going to Yale University, but he never attended college.
This may have been the result of an accident (which probably occurred during the winter of (1885-1886) in which Wilbur was struck in the face with a bat while playing an ice-skating game. Though not immediately afflicted by the accident, he was supposedly affected by nervous palpitations of the heart a few weeks after the accident. For the next four years, Wilbur remained homebound, suffering perhaps as much from depression as from his vaguely-defined heart disorder. During this period, Wilbur cared for his mother, who was dying from tuberculosis, until she died in 1889.
Later Years of Wright Brothers
Years in the
News & Press
Early Years of Wilbur & Orville