Today in 1871, aviator and inventor Orville Wright was born to Milton and Susan Catherine Koerner Wright. Orville was the sixth of seven children born to the Wrights.

At an early age he was intrigued by mechanical things. One of his first interests was printing. As a teenager, Orville began a printing business with his boyhood friend, Ed Sines. Later, his older brother Wilbur joined the effort. The brothers printing firm, Wright & Wright Printers, printed pamphlets, brochures, and other job printing. Orville and Wilbur also edited and produced a couple of their own short-lived local newspapers, the most significant of which was The Evening Item.

Portrait of Orville Wright at age nine.

In the spring of 1892, they responded to the bicycling craze sweeping the United States by opening their own bicycle rental and repair shop. Orville enjoyed racing and considered himself a “scorcher" on the track.

Drawing upon similarities between cycling and flying, the brothers began to research aerodynamics, propulsion, and control. Beginning formal study of aeronautics in 1899, the Wright brothers conducted research and experiments that led to the first successful powered airplane in 1903.

Orville Wright is carried on the back of mechanic Bill Conover to an aircraft waiting in the Miami River, 1913. According to documentation that accompanied the photograph, Orville often went out to fly in business clothes and shoes, whereas the mechanics wore boots. Orville was carried to the plane for a test flight so his feet would not get wet.

Portrait of Orville Wright.

In 1909, the U.S. Army purchased the first military aircraft from the Wright brothers. Late that same year, the brothers and several prominent industrialists created the Wright Company to manufacture and market Wright airplanes. Wilbur became the company’s first president, with Orville as one of two vice-presidents. Orville became president upon Wilbur’s early death in 1912 of typhoid fever (he was only 45 years old). Orville sold his interest in the Wright Company in 1915 and settled into the role of aviation elder statesman and national folk hero. He spent much of his remaining 33 years upholding the reputation he and Wilbur had earned. Orville served on many government aeronautical boards and commissions and was a consultant with several private aircraft companies. He received 11 honorary degrees from universities in Europe and the United States, as well as dozens of medals and awards.

In honor of Orville Wright’s birthday, today is National Aviation Day. NASA is hoping you’ll celebrate by taking a selfie with Orville the Squirrel, its official Aeronautics mascot, anywhere you are. #WhereIsOrville

Did You Know? Orville the Musician

Did you know Orville also had a musical side? He played this mandolin. According to Orville’s younger sister Katharine, “Orv has begun lessons on his mandolin and we are getting even with the neighborhood for the noise they have made on pianos. He sits around and picks that thing until I can hardly stay in the house.”

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