In 1978 there was a grand celebration of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Wright brothers first flight. One of the best-published tributes appeared in the Airline Pilot magazine’s issue of December 1978. The following is what they wrote:
“The Wright Brothers: Proponents of Free Enterprise.
In this issue, a special 75th anniversary tribute to the Wright brothers from all airline pilots, we have tried to show what manner of men they were and record some of the little-known facts about their invention and the significance of their accomplishment. So much is known about them, yet so little.
They were private people who shunned publicity for publicity’s sake. The were determined to stand up for their rights and did, in spite of the dogged efforts of those who would defraud them or detract from the enormity of their achievement.
It is with much awe that we realize that these two quiet geniuses were the ones who made the technological breakthrough that gave the world a whole new mode of transportation and an entire industry that employs thousands of people around the world.
And they did it without the benefit of a completed high school education, financial backing or the precedent of other technology. They were mere bicycle mechanics who had the same dream many others had before them — that man could fly in controllable heavier-than-air machines and do it safely.
The difference was that they realized their dream through scientific inquiry, by gathering their own facts and by applying their self-won knowledge to kites, then gliders and then aeroplanes. They purchased all their materials with their own funds and what they could not buy, they scrounged. And what was not available in any form, they fashioned with their own hands and homemade tools. They continually improvised as they patiently proceeded, fully convinced that it was within their power to succeed even though the realization of the dream had eluded others for centuries.
When success did come, they found that they had to turn from the engineering/test phase to the marketing phase of their new enterprise. They found that selling their new product was difficult, that it had to become known to the public before it would be in demand. Ironically, they became better known overseas than in their own country until they proved the worth of their product by personal demonstration.
Before Wilbur died, the brothers became aircraft manufacturers and thus entrepreneurs in the full sense of the word. They managed a profitable enterprise and assumed the economic risks of a new and untried business. After Wilbur’s death, Orville continued, although with a low profile and seemingly without the inventive spark that their twin genius had given them.
These two Americans, products of a free society, in defiance of the failures of others, were able to solve the riddle of controlled, heavier-than-air flight without the benefit of government subsidy or official encouragement. Exercising their right to think independently and proceed into the technological unknown with confidence, they epitomized the American system at its finest.
They sought neither fame nor fortune yet attained both. They did not envision great fleets of aircraft traversing the globe or new industries and professions rising from the sands of Kitty Hawk, yet both have come about.
All of us owe the Wright brothers a debt we cannot hope to repay. We can only memorialize the men and their genius as we have tried to do in these pages. We know they would understand.”