The brothers who ultimately stand atop the Right Stuff pyramid, knew all about infectious stuff, like bacteria and dreams.
A pair of separate events occurred in 1896 in which the human spirit triumphed in confronting the deadly age-old bacterial infection, typhoid fever. Most importantly, a vaccine was developed by the British bacteriologist Almroth Wright at the Army Medical School in Hampshire, England. The vaccine was successfully applied during the Boer War that year.
Meanwhile, in the city of Dayton, Ohio, during the summer of 1896, 28-year-old Wilbur and 22-year-old Katharine Wright were nursing their 25-year-old brother Orville through a roughly two-month-long ordeal with typhoid fever. This in a home which did not yet have running water or indoor plumbing. Their Mom having died of tuberculosis seven years earlier and their Dad away from home in his role as Bishop of a Protestant Church, the siblings relying upon each other was not a sacrifice as much as it was just their way of life. Business at their 3-year-old bicycle store, the Wright Cycle Exchange, suffered as well.
Orville survived the near-death experience of course. But appreciate what indirectly came of such turbulence in their lives. To pass the time, Wilbur began reading to Orville about the German glider enthusiast Otto Lilienthal who had recently died as a result of a glider crash.
Here’s how Wilbur Wright describes what came of those readings in their book, “The Early History of the Airplane.”
The brief notice of his [Lilienthal] death which appeared in the telegraphic news at that time aroused a passive interest which had existed from my childhood, and led me to take down from the shelves of our home library a book on “Animal Mechanism,” by Prof. Marey, which I had already read several times. From this I was led to read more modern works, and as my brother soon became equally interested with myself, we soon passed from the reading to the thinking, and finally to the working stage. It seemed to us that the main reason why the problem had remained so long unsolved was that no one had been able to obtain any adequate practice. We figured that Lilienthal in five years of time had spent only about five hours in actual gliding through the air. The wonder was not that he had done so little, but that he had accomplished so much. It would not be considered at all safe for a bicycle rider to attempt to ride through a crowded city street after only five hours’ practice, spread out in bits of ten seconds each over a period of five years; yet Lilienthal with this brief practice was remarkably successful in meeting the fluctuations and eddies of wind gusts. We thought that if some method could be found by which it would be possible to practice by the hour instead of by the second there would be hope of advancing the solution of a very difficult problem….
I am very consciously slow-reading David McCullough’s new book, The Wright Brothers. A fitting subject for one of my favorite writers, given his ability to transport me.