While it may seem like modern technology, airplanes were invented more than 100 years ago. Orville and Wilbur Wright had their first successful flight on December 17, 1903, but a lot of work went into that beforehand – though the title of who invented the first plane is still up for debate to this day.
What Inspired the Wright Brothers?
When they were young, their father gifted them with a toy helicopter. It flew, and the brothers quickly became interested in flying. They educated themselves as they grew up, making money by entering the printing business and later the bicycle repair business. Their hearts were still set on flying, and they kept tinkering.
By 1900, the Wright Brothers had a viable prototype to test – their first glider. It performed like a kite, which helped give them the information they needed to learn about the mechanics after much trial and error. By 1903, they were ready to try a powered flight, and Orville Wright got on the plane after winning a coin toss. Unbeknownst to them, they were about to change history in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
They launched their flight off a rail with the help of strong wings. The first flight lasted 12 seconds, and it only went 120 feet. The Wright Brothers knew they could do better, so they kept trying. The second and third flights were about 175 feet. Wilbur was ready to get in on the action, so he took the fourth flight, which lasted a whopping 59 seconds and went 859 feet. Unfortunately, the wind took a turn after that momentous flight, and the plane was ruined – smashed up and unable to fly again.
Still, the Wright Brothers well documented themselves for their success, earning them the coveted place in history as the first successful flight and the inventor of airplanes. They continued to innovate and improve their designs. Even better, they shared their knowledge with others around them, helping people reach the sky and achieve their dreams of flying.
Were There Others that Came Before the Wright Brothers?
There’s some debate whether the Wright Brothers actually own the right to create the first airplane and hold the first successful flight. Alberto Santos-Dumont won an aviation prize for flying a dirigible around the Eiffel Tower in 1901 – two years before the Wright Brothers flight. He was known for experimenting with hot air balloons and dirigibles with motor power as early as the 1890s, even flying from his apartment to his favorite restaurants and leaving it tethered outside as he ate!
Santos-Dumont did everything with a flourish, so in October 1906, he conducted the world’s first public, powered flight, wowing a crowd in Paris by flying 200 feet 15 feet above the ground. Historians argue that because Santos-Dumont didn’t use anything to assist his flight, he deserved the rightful title of the first flight.
Back in America, there was a newspaper report that Whitehead flew 1.5 miles at 150 feet off the ground over Bridgeport, CT, and Fairfield, CT, in August 1901. His plane looked like a bat, and he called it the Condor. Whitehead reported that he flew 7 miles over the Long Island Sign in his trusty Condor the next year. Unfortunately for Whitehead, he didn’t have much documentation outside one blurry photograph.
Attempts to interview the eyewitnesses were unsuccessful at the time, though decades later, there has been a resurgence of support for Whitehead’s claim.
So, When Were Planes Actually Invented?
The Wright Brothers carry the most support in the historical community, so most history books state that planes were first invented in December 1903 after their first successful flight.