On December 17, 1903, the Wright brothers invented modern aviation.
But by the decade’s end they had almost destroyed it.

wright brothers

After their triumph at Kitty Hawk, the Wrights turned their attention to legally securing their monopoly of the new technology by grounding any other inventor who tried to fly.

For the next decade their ‘Patent Wars’ dragged aviators down from the clouds and into the courts while frightening off potential investors and manufacturers. And because the brothers spent most of their time, energy and resources with lawyers instead of levers, their own invention was effectively on hold as well.

Litigation exhausted the brothers mentally and physically as well as financially; it stalled their project, crashed their business and (according to Orville) probably killed Wilbur. Greed and squabbling ripped the wings off an age-old dream; it cost America its lead in a technology that would transform the world.

Of course, the Wrights were just trying to protect their intellectual property. But their experience shows what happens to an idea when we lock it away from other people: it remains the unfinished thought of a single mind; it shrivels up and dies.

Ideas really only develop when new minds take them out for a spin.

Starved of the input it needed to grow and develop, Wilbur and Orville’s wonderful invention went straight from the garage to the museum.

But for 98 glorious seconds on a beach in North Carolina, it was the future.

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Written by Jason Clarke

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Celebrated author, adventurer, gold medal Olympian and popular TV chef; Jason is none of these things. He is, however, one of the most sought-after creative minds in the country. As founder of Minds at Work, he’s helped people ‘think again’ since the end of the last century, working with clients across Australia in virtually every industry and government sector on issues ranging from creativity and trouble shooting to culture change and leadership.