It was 105 years ago today that humans had their minds lifted into the clouds. It was on this day in 1903 that a couple of high school dropouts who looked like refugees from a barber shop quartet first took to the air. Brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright of Dayton, Ohio not only made the first heavier-than-air powered flight, they unwittingly freed all of mankind from earth-bound thinking. Their inspiration and hard work necessary to achieve their dream inspired millions to question where the boundaries of human achievement lie. We are still earnestly pursuing that line of thought.

Because of Orville and Wilbur Wright, we now have iPods. While that may be a leap of logic, that is exactly what many people considered the brothers’ notion that man can fly. Within a decade of their 12-second flight at the lofty height of 20 feet above Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, there were many thousands of airplanes being invented and manufactured all over the the world; bigger, better and being adapted to all sorts of practical uses. The armed forces of the World were busily building aircraft that would eventually change the face of warfare while private interests were altering modes of transportation and commerce.

This fascination with flight eventually led man into space and ultimately to the moon, and the problems that needed to be solved to achieve space flight and safe reentry into earth’s atmosphere has provided humanity with all sorts of scientific and technological innovations, not the least of which were the silicone chips and ultra-miniaturization that eventually produced the iPod. Building aircraft and spacecraft spawned industries and areas of study that were not in existence before these two former bicycle mechanics got busy on their dream of flying. 

Aviation was not the only area of innovation inspired by the Wright Brothers. Minds everywhere were set free from the shackles of earthbound possibilities. Disease were cured, skyscrapers pierced the heavens, cars were mass-produced, radios and televisions invented, “impossible” tunnels and bridges were built, air conditioning and modern irrigation transformed vast uninhabitable and barren tracts of land, highways were created linking everywhere to everywhere else, experiments in writing, music and art broke boundaries of intellectual freedom and the general credo of humankind changed from acceptance of things as they are to challenging any and all assumptions.

So today is a sort of Independence Day for the human mind. The fact that two curious and stubborn young men from Ohio could conquer gravity and aerodynamics with wrenches, welding torches, canvas and brain power set us all free. Could Bill Gates or Elvis Presley have done what they did without the flight at Kitty Hawk? Would DNA scientists have been inspired to explore so deep within if man had not begun looking without? Could Martin Luther King have transformed American society without the spark of human possibilities ignited by the Wright Brothers? Could Nelson Mandela have endured a quarter century in prison and emerged without bitterness without the gift of hope bestowed upon the world in 12 seconds of wobbly adventure in some obscure corner of America? And who else will come out of nowhere to amaze and delight us by using the power of a mind set free? Happy 105th birthday to the triumph of mind over matter and the will to do the impossible. Here’s to Orville and Wilbur, a couple of alWright guys.

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