An American astronaut was the first man on the moon in 1969! The contributions of the United States to applied science have been as numerous and important as those of any nation around the world.

This is especially true in the fields of rapid transportation and communications, which were significant steps for a nation always in a hurry. Robert Fulton's steamboat in 1803 dramatically improved and sped river travel. Samuel F.B. Morse, who was a professor at the University of the City of New York, invented the telegraph and sent his first news message from Washington to Annapolis on May 1, 1844. His invention made it possible for people to send a message in a matter of moments all the way from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

Field's Atlantic cable in 1866 sent those same messages from North America to Europe, which pulled the two continents together. When Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876, he probably had no idea that people would someday carry that telephone around in their pockets.

Though the steam locomotion was a British invention, and the automobile owed much to the German internal-combustion engine, they both were dramatically refined in the United States. It was American Henry Ford, with the assembly line, who made it possible for automobiles to be manufactured affordably.

A handful of Americans went to the 1900 Paris Exposition and installed the first step-type escalator for the entire world to ride up to the next floor. It was also American inventors who developed the first elevator a few years earlier in 1896.

There were many attempts on both sides of the Atlantic at developing a means for man to fly high above the clouds from one destination to another, but it took a couple of American bicycle shop brothers, Orville and Wilbur Wright, to make the first successful solo powered flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

In 1900, they built their first glider, a biplane, and glided 300 feet. In 1901, they built a larger glider, but it didn't fly very well, so they returned to the drawing board, developing new wing designs and testing them in a wind tunnel. In the winter of 1902-03 the Wright brothers built still a larger plane. They constructed a four-cylinder gasoline motor and a propeller for it.

Dec. 17, 1903 was a windy day. Orville lay in position alongside the motor on the lower wing. Wilbur steadied the craft at one wing.

After a 40-foot run, the plane was airborne. In the 12 seconds before it touched back down on the ground, the plane had flown 120 feet. Wilbur piloted the fourth flight at 852 feet in 59 seconds.

Over the next couple of years they continued to refine their airplane. Their longest flight, a circle above a field near Dayton, Ohio, covered more than 24 miles in 38 minutes. In 1906 the Wright Brothers were granted a patent.

Neither Orville and Wilbur Wright never married. Their parents died, and it became the job of their sister Katharine to take the folks’ place in the boys’ lives. They were a very

close-knit family and up until this time she had never married either. Katharine cooked and kept house for them.

Katharine met a fellow named Henry Haskell in college though. Henry created a very successful newspaper career in Kansas City, but he and Katharine remained friends and corresponded back and forth. The couple married when they were both in their 50s, and she moved to Kansas City.

Reference: “Pictorial History of the American People,” by Preston W. Slosson.

To reach Ted W. Stillwell send e-mail to <Ted @blueandgrey.com> or call him at 816-896-3592.