Today’s Illustration: A Bicycle Box

Today’s Illustration:  The Format & Purpose

  • The illustrations are based on true events and/or actual people.
  • The basic facts of the event or person are laid out.
  • Quotations from books and magazine articles about the event or person are included.
  • “Key Illustrative Thoughts” are designed to get your mind thinking about possible ways to use the illustration.
  • The “Key Thoughts” catch some of the keywords and phrases found in the illustrations content which can be carried down into the message.
  • Other general or interesting information which might be of use is provided at the end.
  • Additional links for your own further exploration of the topic, person, or event have been included at the end.  There is plenty more that could be used from the references.
  • Feel free to use all that is provided as you will.  It is yours to use and benefit your preaching, teaching, and speaking.



On This Day: December 17, 1903 — First manned flight of a powered, heavier-than-air, fixed-wing aircraft.


The History:

Father: Milton Wright, a bishop in the Church of the United Brethren in Christ — Born in 1828 — Died in 1917

Mother: Susan Koerner Wright — Born 1831 — Died in 1889 of tuberculosis



Wilbur Wright — Born April 16, 1867 – Died 1912

Orville Wright — Born in 1871 — Died 1948

Lorin — Born 1861 – Died 1920

Reuchilin — Born 1862 — Died 1939

Otis — Born February 25, 1870 — Died March 9, 1870


Katherine — Born 1874 — Died 1929

Ida Wright — Born February 25, 1870 —  Died March 14, 1870

Wilbur and Orville were called “The Bishop’s Kids.”

Because Milton was a preacher, he had moved twelve times before he settled down in Dayton, Ohio.


Orville — 3 years of high school
Wilbur — 4 years of high school

Orville & Wilbur:  They were the best of friends and truly had no other friend who was closer.  They did everything together throughout their whole lives!


The story of flight, via the Wright brothers, is believed to have begun when Milton Wright, preacher and father of Orville and Wilbur Wright, returned from a trip from Europe with a gift for his two sons.  Milton Wright’s preaching took him on the road frequently, and he often brought back small toys for his children — June 1878 — Orville was 7 and Wilbur was 11.

“Look here, boys,” he said to Wilbur and Orville, holding out his hands with something hidden between them.  Then he tossed the gift toward them.  But instead of falling at once to the floor or into their hands, as they expected, it went to the ceiling where it fluttered briefly before it fell.  It was a flying machine, a helicopter, the invention of a Frechman, Alphonise Penaud.  Made of cork, bamboo, and thin paper, the device weighed so little that twisted rubber band provided all the power needed to sen it aloft for a few seconds. . . . . Though it soon went the way of all fragile toys, the impression it left on their minds never faded.

Not long afterward Wilbur tried to build an improvement on that toy helicopter.  If so small a device could fly, why not make a bigger one that could fly longer and higher?  Orville was still too young to contribute much to that actual building of larger models, but he was keenly interested as Wilbur made several, each larger than the one preceding. “

Before the first manned flight of a powered, heavier-than-air, fixed-wing aircraft in 1903 — flying involved the use of hot air balloons and gliders.

The Wright’s approach involved a three-axis controlled aircraft which could thereby maintain level flight.

The Wright brothers focused on the control of the craft and not the strength or power of the engines.  They understood that it wasn’t the flapping of the wings which gave the birds lift, the warping of their wings.  The flapping of a bird’s sings was the engine, not the cause of lift!  It was the shape and shaping of the wings which controlled flight and lift.

In Fred Kelly’s authorized biography of the Wright Brothers, Kelly reveals what event contributed to Wilbur’s solution of one of the most plaguing problems of manned flight.

In essence, the Wright brothers had conceived of a wing design that allowed two-thirds of each wing to rotate on a shaft in one direction while the opposite wing rotated in the other direction. The purpose of the movable wings section was to change the lift characteristics of opposite wings which would allow the aircraft to turn in the air.  By seeking to change the contour of opposite wings, greater lift was created on one wing and less on the other.  

However, two persistent problems plagued their rotating shaft approach.  

Orville had hit on a fundamental principle.  (Indeed, this principle later became the basic claim of the original Wright patent, and the claim was sustained, as covering the idea of the aileron control, in all countries where the Wright patients were adjudicated.)

Orville made a rough sketch of a wing, showing a stationary section at the center, consisting of approximately one-third of the wing, measured from tip to tip, with two adjustable sections, one at either side.  These sections were carried on shafts interconnected by cogs mounted on the center second and extending toward the wing tips.  The movement of a lever attached to one of the shafts would cause one wing section to rotate in one direction which the other wing would turn the in the opposite direction.  Thus a greater life could be obtained on whichever side it was needed.

The Wrights soon saw, however, that for two reasons this particular design did not provide a good structure for a gliding machine.”

[The Added Weight]:  “First, with two-thirds of the entire weight of the machine and operator carried by the two shafts, the structure would be weak;”

[Loss Of Rigidity]: “and second, with the ends of the wings free to turn about the shafts, there would not be enough rigidity for a machine that would have to be toted about.”

Then one night, some five or six weeks later,  Wilbur was surprisingly struck with the solution by looking at a simple bicycle tube box.  Wilbur came home from the bicycle shop and told Orville of a possible solution which had come to his mind while talking to the customer who had stopped in needed a bicycle tube. 

“A customer had dropped in to buy an inner tube for a tire.  Wilbur had taken the tube from the pasteboard box it came in and was toying with the box while talking to the customer.  As he twisted the box, he observed that though the vertical sides were rigid endwise, the top and bottom sides could be twisted to have different angles at the opposite ends.  Why, he thought, couldn’t the wings of a gliding machine be warped from one end to the other in this same way?  Thus the wings could be put at a great angle at one side than at the other, without structural weakness.  That plan seemed so satisfactory that the Wrights did not look for or consider any other method.”

It would be only a few weeks later where the idea would be tried.  They built a biplane kite which allowed for the “warping of the wings” by four cords reaching to the ground.

“This moving of the wing tips in opposite directions caused a twisting or warping of the wings,  Then the wing at one end would be presented to the wind at a different angle from that at the other end.  If one end of the kite started to sink, sidewise balance could be restored by exposing the wing at that end at a greater angle and getting more lift.”

Orville Wright later wrote . . . .

“Learning the secret of flight from a bird was a good deal like learning the secret of magic from a magician.  After you once know the trick, you see things that you did not notice when you did not know exactly what to look for.”


Milton Wright wrote in his diary upon his son’s early death – Wilbur . . . .

“A short life, full of consequences. An unfailing intellect, imperturbable temper, great self-reliance and as great modesty, seeing the right clearly, pursuing it steadfastly, he lived and died.”

“Though the family would have preferred a private funeral, a public viewing of Wilbur’s wasted remains took place at the First Presbyterian Church during which an estimated 25,000 people passed by the coffin.  At the conclusion of a brief service, burial followed at h the family plot of Woodland Cemetery.

Wilbur is dead and buried [the Bishop wrote].  We are all stricken.  It does not seem possible he is gone.  Probably Orville and Katharine feel his loss most.  They say little.” — The Wright Brothers – David  McCollough – pg 257



Key Illustrative Thoughts:

Seeing the right clearly and pursuing it steadfastly
Seeing things that you never noticed
God’s ways are unsearchable.
Focus of power or focus on lift
It is the glory of God to hide a matter.  It is the glory of man to discover it. – Prov. 25:2
Often we only see what we are looking for and not what is before us.
History is His Story.
It will happen when God appoints it to happen.
A customer drops in for a bicycle tube, and a solution is realized.
It started with a gift and a toy.
The impression never faded.
God uses the unlikely — Two bicycle shop owners.
What if Orville or Wilbur had given up?
That accident (Wilbur injury at an ice hockey game) might have changed it all.


Additional Information & Links:

Wilbur Wright’s Injury:

“Wilbur was a bright and studious child, and excelled in school. His personality was outgoing and robust, and he made plans to attend Yale University after high school. In the winter of 1885-86, an accident changed the course of Wilbur’s life. He was badly injured in an ice hockey game, when another player’s stick hit him in the face.”

Though most of his injuries healed, the incident plunged Wilbur into a depression. He did not receive his high school diploma, canceled plans for college and retreated to his family’s home. Wilbur spent much of this period at home, reading books in his family’s library, and caring for his ailing mother. — –

Fred Kelly:

Fred Kelly was born in 1882, in Xenia, Ohio.

Today, he identified as a “Humorist” because he began his newspaper career writing a newspaper humor column.  It was in 1896 that Fred C. Kelly became a local newspaper reporter for a small town newspaper — The Plain Dealer, in Clevland Ohio. 

In 1910, his column, “Statesmen, Real and Near” ran for eight years (1910-1918) and was the first syndicated column in Washington, D.C.  For a brief period of time, he was a special agent for the FBI.

Fred Kelly is the official biographer of the Wright brothers. 

Kelly was an old friend of the Wrights and he tells the story of flight, the wright brothers, and the Wright family from the position of someone who knew them personally.  It is a “behind-the-scenes” account of how the first fixed-wing plane was designed, built, tried, and finally flow in December 1903.

The book’s manuscript was read and approved by Orville Wright (Wilbur had died — May 30, 1912 —  from typhoid fever, by the time the manuscript was finished).

Fred Kelly wrote three books on the Wright Brothers:

  • They Wouldn’t Believe the Wrights had Flown: A Study in Human Incredulity (1940)
  • The Wright Brothers (1943)
  • Miracle at Kitty Hawk: The Letters of Wilbur and Orville Wright (1951 – editor)


Fred Kelly’s Book: Transportation/dp/0486260569

David McCullough:

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