In 1878 Bishop Milton Wright, who traveled frequently in his work for the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, brought home a gift for his two youngest sons. Milton and his wife Susan, who in truth was much more mechanically minded than he, liked to encourage their children’s inquisitiveness and creativity because that’s just the kind of parents they were. The gift seemed to be just the right kind of thing.
What he brought was a propeller toy based on the models designed by Frenchman. It was constructed with paper, bamboo, and cork and powered by a wound rubber band. Milton’s young sons, Wilbur and Orville Wright played with the toy again and again until it broke. Then they made another one themselves.
Years later when the brothers’ innovations led to the first sustainable flight fixed-wing aircraft they traced their interest in flight back to the propeller toy their father had given them when they were about 6 and 10 years old.
Because that’s just the kind of dad he was.
A few years later, when younger brother Orville was 9, he wrote a letter to his father who was once again away on church business:
My teacher said I was a good boy today. We have 45 in our room. The other day I took a machine can and filled it with water. Then I put it on the stove. I waited a little while and the water came squirting out of the top about a foot. The water in the river was up in the cracker factory about half a foot. There is a good deal water on the island. The old cat is dead.
Your son Orville
I love that amidst the obligatory behavior report (a bit of a troublemaker, Orville was once expelled from an elementary school for poor behavior), details about local water levels, and the reported death of a family pet, there is this irresponsible and dangerous experiment bursting from the page. I love this letter because as the mother of a couple inquisitive and creative kids, I find it wonderfully familiar.
My oldest son will soon turn nine and this sounds so much like him. Of course, his “letter” would be more likely to arrive in my inbox as a power point presentation and/or short movie detailing the latest way he has risked his safety in the name of science. Because that’s just the kind of kid he is.
But it’s the same idea. I imagine this letter made Milton Wright smile because he probably suspected that his kids would grow up to do amazing things. And because there’s no greater moment in parenthood than when your kids want to share their enthusiasm with you.
As I watch my little mister blow out the nine candles on his birthday cake, I will have a few wishes of my own to make. My wish is that he will continue to be an inquisitive kid who delights in creativity and that I will be the kind of parent who encourages him along the way. I wish to always be one of the people he can’t wait to tell about his latest discovery.
And I wish to someday watch him take flight.
You can see 9-year-old Orville Wright’s letter to his father Milton Wright here.