Sunday, March 29, 2009

Take the Initiative

“Everything you want is just outside your comfort zone.” -Robert Allen

“The world bestows its big prizes, both in money and honors, for but one thing. And that is initiative. What is initiative? I’ll tell you: It is doing the right thing without being told. But next to doing the thing without being told is to do it when you are told once . . . but their pay is not always in proportion. Next, there are those who never do a thing until they are told twice: such get no honors and small pay. Next, there are those who do the right thing only when necessity kicks them from behind, and these get indifference instead of honors, and a pittance for pay . . . Then, still lower down in the scale than this, we have the fellow who will not do the right thing even when someone goes along to show him how and stays to see that he does it: he is always out of a job . . . To which class do you belong?” (Elbert Hubbard, Love, Life & Work, (The Roycrofters, 1906) p. 84)

The Wright Brothers
The lives of the Wright brothers provide many wonderful examples of taking the initiative. William J. Tate, a man who helped the Wright brothers in assembling the Wright’s first glider in North Carolina, wrote of the early flights, “The mental attitude of the natives toward the Wrights was that they were a simple pair of harmless cranks that were wasting their time at a fool attempt to do something that was impossible. The chief argument against their success could be heard at the stores and post office, and ran something like this: ‘God didn’t intend man to fly. If He did, He would have given him a set of wings on his shoulders.’”

Wilber was born in 1867 and Orville was born in 1871 to Susan and Milton Wright in the Midwest. Orville and Wilber’s interest in flying began in 1878 when their father gave them a toy helicopter. This interest turned into an active pursuit at the end of the 19th century. Wilber began reading “everything he could lay his hands on, everything in sight. His father had some simple books on flight in nature in his library, and the Dayton Public Library had a handful of things on flight. When he had exhausted the local resources, Wilbur wrote to the Smithsonian Institution asking for more information on flight.” (“The Unlikely Inventors,” Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). Retrieved December 11, 2006, from

In 1899, they began their flight experiments. At this time, the Wright brothers were running a bicycle repair and sales shop. The revenues from this company supported their living expenses and funded the development of the airplane. During the next four years, the Wright brothers performed thousands of tests, experiments, and flights. In 1901, they created the world’s first wind tunnel and tested more than 200 different wing shapes, and just in the months of September and October of 1902 they made over 700 glides. On December 17, 1903, Orville, age 32, and Wilber, age 36, achieved their dream of a controlled, powered flight. The flight covered a distance of 120 feet in 12 seconds—about half the length of a 747 jumbo jet. This flight was the beginning of modern aviation.

In 1904, the Wright brothers decided to take a financial risk and withdraw from the bicycle business to focus on developing a practical airplane they could sell. Wilbur explained to an acquaintance, “We believed that if we would take the risk of devoting our entire time and financial resources we could conquer the difficulties in the path to success . . . as our financial future was at stake [we] were compelled to regard it as a strict business proposition.” (Tom D. Crouch, The Bishop’s Boys, (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1989) p. 273–274) They would have to make the airplane a profitable business to survive, but they never compromised their values. The Wright brothers expected their employees to observe their family rules and among those who worked for them “there was no drinking, gambling, or flying on Sundays.” (Tom D. Crouch, The Bishop’s Boys, (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1989) p. 429)

In February 1908, the company obtained a contract from the U.S. Army to build a two-seat aircraft that could fly for an hour at an average speed of 40 miles per hour and land undamaged. In July 1909, they completed a flight that met the U.S. Army’s requirements and received $30,000 ($645,000 in 2006 dollars) for their aircraft. In 1910, they added air shows and commercial air cargo shipping to their business, earning nearly $100,000 ($2 million in 2006 dollars) in profit that year. (Tom D. Crouch, The Bishop’s Boys, (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1989) p. 429)

Flying was a risky venture. Otto Lilienthal, an early aviator pioneer whose work assisted and inspired the Wright brothers, died after a gust of wind threw his glider out of balance, causing him to fall fifty feet and break his spine. His last words were quoted as “sacrifices must be made” and those words were carved on his tombstone. (Fred Howard, Wilbur and Orville, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1987) p. 16) The brothers wrote of Lilienthal and other early aviator pioneers that their work “infected us with their own unquenchable enthusiasm, and transformed idle curiosity into the active zeal of workers.” (Judith A. Dempsey, A Tale of Two Brothers, (Victoria, BC, Canada: Trafford Publishing, 2003) p. 26)

Orville and Wilber experienced their share of crashes. One occurred on September 17, 1908, when a propeller malfunctioned and the aircraft crashed killing the passenger. Orville suffered multiple serious injuries, including a broken leg and broken ribs. Because of the dangers in flying, and at the request of their father, Wilber and Orville never flew together. However, on May 25, 1910, after they had made many improvements that increased the safety of the airplane, and for the sake of history, the father agreed to let Wilber and Orville fly together. This was the only time the brothers flew together. After this flight, Orville took his 81-year-old father on the only flight of his life, which lasted 6 minutes and 55 seconds. “At one point during the flight, Milton leaned close to his son’s ear and shouted . . . ‘Higher, Orville, higher!’” (Tom D. Crouch, The Bishop’s Boys, (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1989) p. 12)

Wilber died from typhoid fever in 1912 at age 45. “Twenty-five thousand people viewed his casket and for three full minutes the citizens of Dayton stopped everything they were doing as they mourned an American hero. Orville had lost his brother, his best friend, his other half who knew the secrets of flying. He was devastated, but he carried on.” (Louise Borden and Trish Marx, Touching the Sky, (New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2003) Orville continued to run the Wright Company for three more years until he was 44 years old. On October 15, 1915, Orville sold his interest in the company. “The New York Times reported that Orville received roughly $1.5 million [$30 million in 2006 dollars], plus an additional $25,000 [$500,000 in 2006 dollars] for his services as chief consulting engineer during the first year of the new company’s operation.” (Tom D. Crouch, The Bishop’s Boys, (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1989) p. 465–466)

God did not give men wings upon their shoulders, but He did give them minds and hands to create. It took faith, study, courage, work, and persistence to achieve the miracle of flight. Two men with a dream to fly created wings for us all—the wings God intended for man.

The Wright brothers should inspire each of us to ask, “What cause or endeavor can I take the initiative to move forward?”


Jefe said...


Thanks for the inspiration. It is one thing to imagine and quite yet another to do it. Often the fluff of life distracts us from doing something truly worthwhile. Thanks

J Hagen

Anonymous said...

I read this story and your book. I know jesus will help me accomplish the things you speak of. God's going to turn this thing around. The devils, he's a liar, god's going to turn this thing around.