The American Dream made real



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At the heart of the American Dream is the idea that anyone can start a business and change the world through ingenuity, hard work and investment. The story of the first powered manned flight is a case in point.

On 7 October 1903, watched by news reporters, an aircraft launched from a houseboat on the Potomac River, south of Washington DC. The US Department of War had backed the historic effort with $1.7m in today’s money after successful tests involving smaller unmanned prototypes. The craft immediately crashed into the water. A repeat attempt weeks later by its inventor, a celebrated physicist, ended in a similar failure.

Instead, it was two bicycle salesmen – Orville and Wilbur Wright – who made history with the Wright Flyer that same year. The plane took to the air four times on 17 December, staying aloft for up to 59 seconds. It had cost the brothers the equivalent of $35,000, including constructing a wind tunnel to study airflow and building their own motor after being spurned by manufacturers. The company the brothers subsequently founded survives within the aeronautical component maker Curtiss-Wright and has links to defence giant Lockheed Martin’s origins.


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By cameronhenderson
Updated: 13 March 2024
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