January 02, 2004

Agnostic

It's been lovely having the office closed this week. I've spent a lot of quality time with the five year old -- we saw the Enterprise at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, the new satellite of the National Air and Space Museum. We also visited Air and Space on the mall, and saw, for about the umpteenth time, the Wright Flyer. I've never been a tremendous fan of the space shuttle, but I have to admit that seeing the prototype (the Enterprise was built just to test whether the vehicle could glide to earth; it never flew in space) was inspiring -- maybe it's all the 1970s Roger Moore Bond flix I watched the last few weeks, but suddenly 1970s technology didn't look so bad. The five year old, who got quite a few space ships, astronauts, and the like for Christmas, was most fascinated by the Wright Brothers' plane. We picked up a kids' book on the Wrights, and also How We Invented the Airplane by Orville Wright, edited by Fred C. Kelly. The narrative by Orville Wright was a deposition in a patent lawsuit (the Wrights were not parties to the suit, as far as I can tell); I raise all this because of an offhanded comment I made this post, "If the Wright Brothers believed in elves, and that by flying they would have the opportunity to commune with the elves, would that have diminished their airplane?"

In his introduction to Orville's deposition, Kelly tells us that the Wright's inclination ran in the other direction:

The Wright household was a harmonious one. Bishop Wright's influence on his sons was great. From their childhood he encouraged them to seek factual information in books, but to do their own thinking. His theological library included books by Robert G. Ingersoll and other agnostics, and he offered no protest when he discovered that Wilbur and Orville were influenced by them. Moreover, he gave his blessing to their spending what money they had on hobbies and experiments. It was all right, he said, to spend money in any way they chose, so long as they earned it. "All the money one needs," he said, "is just enough to prevent one from being a burden on others."

Orville once told me that he thought he and Wilbur had enjoyed special advantages. "If my father had not been the kind who encouraged his children to pursue intellectual interests without any thought of profit, our early curiosity about flying would have been nipped too early to bear fruit."

One other aviation related note: I was pleased to find, in the Smithsonian's gift shop, the same balsa wood gliders I used to buy, I think, for a dime a piece (a quarter for the ones with propellors) when I was a little kid. We bought a few of those as well -- the gliders did better than the ones with props, which seems to square with my childhood memory.

Posted by Ideofact at January 2, 2004 11:21 PM
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