So… One of the Wright Brothers Was in Love With Their Sister?

I’m a fan of aviation, aeronautics, and space exploration. In my recent Top Gun: Maverick review, I’ve explained why, but here’s the long and short of it: I wanted to be Maverick. I wanted to be Harmon Rabb Jr. Which in a way, meant I wanted to be Orville and Wilbur Wright. The inventors of powered, heavier-than-air flight. So, imagine my surprise when I listened to the wonderful audiobook rendition of David McCullough’s seminal The Wright Brothers, and found out that one of the Wright brothers was in love with their sister.

A Bit of Context

Susan Catherine Koerner Wright, the Wright Brother’s mother.

The Wright brothers were sons of a larger family, whose mother was Susan Catherine Koerner Wright. She died aged 58, when Will and Orv were quite young.

Wight a larger family to be taken care of, and a mother no longer in the picture, Bishop Milton Wright (the father of the family) relied on his daughter Katherine to take care of the household.

Katherine was a school teacher and much respected by everyone in their hometown of Dayton, Ohio. She also would go on to accompany their brothers in their travels to Europe once the Wright Flyer started to take off commercially.

Before that happened, however, there was an accident in 1908 that, in my personal opinion, precipitated the feelings Orville Wright might have towards Katherine. One in which Orville almost died, and his passenger, Lt. Thomas Selfridge, did pay the ultimate price.

The 1908 Accident

The Wright brothers were having tremendous success in Europe with their flight exhibitions by 1908, but they hadn’t been able to secure a contract with the US Government. As part of the requirements for a contract from the US Army, the brothers needed to perform certain exhibition flights and accomplish certain milestones.

One of these flights happened in September 17, 1908. After two successful flights that day, Orville Wright would agree to one more, this time accompanied by Lt. Thomas Selfridge of the US Army.

The 1908 crash. Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In what was later discovered to be an instance of a propeller disintegrating mid-flight, Lt. Selfridge died and Orville Wright was nearly killed. He would spend months in hospital and recovery. All of this, under the watchful eye of his sister, Katherine.

Katherine Heals Orville

Katharine Wright graduating from Oberlin College in 1898.

After the accident, Katherine travelled from Dayton to Washington, where Orville was hospitalized. Orville was in poor shape. Katherine would stay with him for a long time, while he slowly recovered from the accident.

Though Katherine was exactly 3 years younger than Orville, she had already been taking care of the Wright household and some of the family affairs for years. So Orville definitely perceived her to be a positive, maternal-like figure.

However, this stay in hospital could be seen as an opportunity for something else to occur, also: the Reverse Florence Nightingale effect. The Florence Nightingale effect is said to occur when a caregiver falls in love with their patient. In a Reverse Florence Nightingale effect, it is the patient who falls in love with the caregiver. In this case, could have Orville fallen in love with Katherine?

Why Would I say that One of the Wright Brothers Was in Love With Their Sister?

Orville Wright, age 34, head and shoulders, with mustache.

Though it is seldom discussed openly, Orville’s behavior after Katherine married journalist Harry Haskell says quite a lot. Once Katherine married, he began to act as if she were dead. In the words of the Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company Virtual Museum: “In point of fact, although there was no sexual relationship between Orville and his sister, he behaved as if she had been unfaithful.” (source).

This is further discussed in more detailed in the aforementioned book The Wright Brothers, by David McCullough, which I urge you to seek out and devour (as I did).

Orville Wright would not speak about, or to, his sister Katherine until March 2 of 1929. Katherine had contracted pneumonia and was on the verge of dying. Only on her deathbed did Orville eventually go and visit Katherine one last time. Katherine died the very next day.

Do We Know He Was in Love For Sure?

No, and we will possibly never know. Orville Wright is (rightfully) an American hero. Historians avoid looking too hard into something which could be seen (also rightfully) as “uncouth behavior” from one of the most important people in American history.

But I haven’t been able to get this factoid out of my mind since I first head about it in 2020. And now, you know it, too. Do with it what you will.

About Marcos Codas 260 Articles
Lover of portable gaming and horror cinema. Indie filmmaker and game developer. Multimedia producer. Born in Paraguay, raised in Canada. Huge fan of "The Blair Witch Project", and "Sonic 3D Blast". Deputy head at Vita Player and its parent organization, Infinite Frontiers. Like what I do? Donate a coffee: https://www.paypal.me/marcoscodas

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