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The name of two American brothers who
worked closely together in the early development of aeronautics.
The Wrights invented and flew the first practical airplane.
(1871–1948) was born in Dayton on Aug. 19, 1871. His individual contributions to the improvement of aircraft include the development of the first wind tunnel in 1901 and the discovery, in 1902, that tailspins could be eliminated by substituting a movable vertical tail for the stationary one then in use.
In 1903, at Kitty Hawk, Orville Wright made the first successful
flight, which lasted 12 sec, in a self-powered craft. On Sept. 9, 1908,
at Fort Meyer, Va., he simultaneously established several records when
he flew the first Wright plane made under government contract for 62 min,
completing 57 circles at an altitude of 36.6 m (120 ft); he became an immediate
international celebrity. In 1910 Orville Wright formed the first Wright
Exhibition Team, in which pilots trained by him performed in Wright planes.
He also personally tested each new piece of equipment used on Wright planes
and superintended production at the Wright plants. After the death of Wilbur
in 1912, Orville Wright became president of the American Wright Co. Three
years later he sold his stock in the company for over $500,000.
(1867–1912) was born in Millville, Ind., on April 16, 1867. As boys, he and his younger brother Orville made simple mechanical toys, and in 1888 they built a large printing press. The following year they began to publish the Dayton, Ohio, West Side News, edited by Wilbur. Already successful printers, the brothers opened a bicycle repair shop and showroom in 1892, and three years later they began assembling bicycles with tools of their own invention. The Wrights were admirers of the writings and feats of the German engineer Otto Lilienthal, the American engineer Octave Chanute (1832–1910), and other glider experimenters. In September 1900 at Kill Devil Hills, near Kitty Hawk, N.C., they tested their own glider. Carefully recording their findings, they concluded that the previously accepted aeronautical data on which they had relied were erroneous. In 1901 the brothers tested the effects of air pressure on more than 200 wing surfaces and in 1902, executing almost 1000 glides in a new glider, they confirmed their Kitty Hawk data. At Kitty Hawk the Wrights also proved to their satisfaction that planes could be balanced best by pilots, rather than by built-in engineering devices; this was the major idea covered by the first Wright patent.In 1903 the brothers constructed their first propeller, from original calculations; it was about 35 percent more effective than other propellers then available. They next built a 337-kg (750-lb) machine with a 12-hp motor in which, on Dec. 17, 1903, at Kitty Hawk, first Orville and then Wilbur made the first powered airplane flights in history. Despite public indifference they dedicated themselves to the development of better engines and planes. The site of the first flight, now the Wright Brothers National Memorial, is administered by the National Park Service. In 1908 Wilbur Wright set distance and altitude records in France. That same year the Wrights fulfilled a contract with the U.S. Army Signal Corps to produce a plane that could fly for 10 min at a speed of 64 km/hr (40 mph). They then toured Europe, where they were highly honored. Upon their return to the U.S. in 1909 they received further honors. Wilbur became president of the newly incorporated American Wright Co.
He died in Dayton three years later, on May 30, 1912, of typhoid fever.
The Wrights were first to design and
build a flying craft that could be controlled while in the air. Every successful
aircraft ever built since, beginning with the 1902 Wright glider, has had
controls to roll the wings right or left, pitch the nose up or down, and
yaw the nose from side to side.
These three controls -- roll, pitch, and yaw -- let a pilot navigate an airplane in all three dimensions, making it possible to fly from place to place.
The entire aerospace business, the largest industry in the world, depends on this simple but brilliant idea. So do spacecraft, submarines, even robots. More important, the Wright Brothers changed the way we view our world. Before flight became commonplace, folks traveled in just two dimensions, north and south, east and west, crossing the lines that separate town from town, nation from nation. Seen from above, the artificial boundaries that divide us disappear. Distances shrink, the horizon stretches. The world seems grander and more interconnected. This three-dimensional vision has revealed a universe of promises and possibilities. The world economy, our awareness of our environment, and space exploration are all, to some degree, the results of the inventive minds of the Wilbur and Orville Wright. In 1896, the newspapers were filled with accounts of flying machines. Wilbur and Orville noticed that all these primitive aircraft lacked suitable controls. They began to wonder how a pilot might balance an aircraft in the air, just as a cyclist balances his bicycle on the road. In 1899, Wilbur devised a simple system that twisted or "warped" the wings of a biplane, causing it to roll right or left. They tested this system in a kite, then a series of gliders. They made their first test flights at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on the shores of the Atlantic where the strong winds helped to launch the gliders and the soft sands helped to cushion the fall when they crashed. Their first two gliders, flown in 1900 and 1901, failed to perform as the Wrights had hoped. The gliders did not provide enough lift nor were they fully controllable. So during the winter of 1901-1902 Wilbur and Orville built a wind tunnel and conducted experiments to determine the best wing shape for an airplane. This enabled them to build a glider with sufficient lift, and concentrate on the problem of control. Toward the end of the 1902 flying season, their third glider became the first fully controllable aircraft, with roll, pitch, and yaw controls.
During the winter of 1902-1903, with the help of their mechanic, Charlie Taylor, the Wrights designed and built a gasoline engine light enough and powerful enough to propel an airplane. They also designed the first true airplane propellers and built a new, powered aircraft. Back in Kitty Hawk, they suddenly found themselves in a race. Samuel P. Langley, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, had also built a powered aircraft, patterned after a small, unmanned "aerodrome" he had flown successfully in 1896. To add to their frustrations, the Wrights were delayed by problems with their propeller shafts and the weather, giving Langley time to test his aircraft twice in late 1903. Both attempts failed miserably, however, and Langley left the field to the Wrights. On December 17, 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright made the first sustained, controlled flights in a powered aircraft. Back in Dayton, Ohio, the brothers found they had much to do to perfect their invention. While the 1903 Wright Flyer did indeed fly, it was underpowered and difficult to control. They established the world's first test flight facilities at Huffman Prairie, northeast of Dayton (today, the site of Wright Patterson Air Force Base). For two years they made flight after flight, fine tuning the controls, engine, propellers, and configuration of their airplane. At first, they could only fly in a straight line for less than a minute. But by the end of 1905, they were flying figure-eight's over Huffman Prairie, staying aloft for over half an hour, or until their fuel ran out. The 1905 Wright Flyer was the world's first practical airplane.