Lt. Gov Dan Forest and others sent out a reminder that December 17 is the 115th anniversary of the Wright Flyer’s historic flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The occasion has long been a boon for tourism and recognition for North Carolina, clearly evident by our “First in Flight” license plate.
Tobin notes that the Wrights, in large part because of their more humble background, were certainly viewed as the underdogs in the race if they were even thought of much at all. Their origins and dogged determination certainly helped catapult them into American icons once they achieved their feat.
The entrepreneurial side to that story serves as a great reminder of getting government out of the way when it comes to picking winners and losers and ending corporate welfare.
The Wright Brothers built a workable aircraft for under $1000 in three years, which included years of transportation costs from Ohio to North Carolina’s Outer Banks. One of the reasons the Outer Banks won out to test the flyer was not just because of ideal winds and topography, but the kindness and receptiveness of Kitty Hawk’s weather station chief in responding to Wilbur Wright’s correspondence.
The Wright Brother’s largest American competitor, Samuel Pierpont Langley, had $50,000 in government funding and exceeded $20,000 in investments but his aircraft and media hyped testing efforts ended up being a notorious flop. In the end, given the number of dignitaries and scientists attached to his race to be first, the media piled on and mocked his failed initiative.
Langley saw the elusive nature of flight as a problem of harnessing enough power, while the Wright Brothers correctly diagnosed the missing piece as one of balance. Many of their supplies came from their Dayton bicycle shop, not the high powered and expensive machinery being built by Langley’s crew.
While it’s impossible to go into the whole story in this post, it does offer up quite the lesson in the importance of entrepreneurial innovation, deregulation, and getting government out of subsidizing what quite possibly could be an epic failure.
One congressman at the turn of the century summed it up well: “You can tell Langley for me, the only thing he ever made fly was government money.”