United States

Early Airplanes

Eighty Percent of people in their lifetime have flown on an airplane.  However, most people do not know how we discovered or let alone invented planes.  The invention of the plane changed the way we view and travel across our world everyday.    Before the 1900’s, people traveled by cars, trains, horses and the thought of flight travel was thought of as impossible. However on December 17, 1903 that all changed when two brilliant American engineers built the first successful airplane which changed the world forever. Planes have come a long way in the world today, but people may not know the true difficulties and time that went into making this revolutionary invention.  

The Wright Brothers grew up in New York and were raised with 5 other siblings.  They grew up living in the middle class and were sons to a bishop in church.  After high school the brothers started their own newspaper called ,The West Side News which then led them to open up a bike shop.  Growing up, the brothers were obsessed with the idea of the airplane and after their idol, German aviator Otto Lilienthal died in a glider crash, they decided to start their own experiments in flight.  After many years of failures, they created a concept called “wing warping” which was based on birds using their wings to balance and control flight.  On December 17, 1903 they put this “magic formula” to the test and succeeded in flying the first free, controlled flight of a power-driven plane. They named their first plane the Wright Flyer 1 which was made of strong lightweight wood and a purpose-built gasoline engine fabricated in their bicycle shop.  Many press and flight experts did not appreciate their success that happened that day so one of the brothers, Wilbur, set out for France to show the world their revolutionary invention created.  After being discovered in France,  the brothers began to sell their revolutionary planes to the public which made the brothers very wealthy businessmen.  These brothers accomplished something no one else could and their hardwork and dedication led to the most revolutionary invention ever created.

During the Industrial Revolution thousands of inventions were created making life easier and more efficient for the people during this revolution. The Wright brothers were one of many people who created brilliant revolutionary inventions during this industrial time period.  However planes were not the only form of air transportation created.  Before the Wright brothers were even born, air travel was invented and used during the 1780’s where the first hot air balloon was invented.  This was build by a scientist by the name of Pilatre De Rozier and only lasted in the air for 15 minutes.  Another flight invention created before the Wright brothers created the first powered airplane, was the Zeppelin.  The first Zeppelin airship was designed by Ferdinand, Graf von Zeppelin, a retired German army officer.  This was then used in World War I to scout and bomb enemies making 100 hour trips across hundreds of thousands of miles of oceans and lands.  Ever since the first airplane was created by the Wright brothers, people were inspired across the world and better and more efficient planes were being created allowing transportation to become more and more used in the air.

The Wright brothers shocked the world with their marvelous invention and this lead to bigger, faster, and longer lasting airplanes.  Other experimenters quickly learn of their work of the first powered plane and began to build on their success. The capabilities for aircraft expand as designers and pilots introduce floatplanes, flying boats, passenger aircraft, observation platforms fitted with radios and wireless telegraphs, fighters, and bombers.  Aircraft began to be a central role during the first world war and the demand for planes during this time period was increasing.  During the war, planes were used as transportation, bombers, and gunners for in flight battles.  At the start of the war in 1914, thousands of  planes were deployed by all sides of the war and these planes shaped the outcome of the war.  During the war, planes were getting more and more advanced with bombs, machine guns and even navigation tools/radios being installed into the planes.  These planes were used to kill hundreds of thousands of troops and the advances in technology in the planes made flying planes last longer and fly faster.  By the end of WWI, planes helped shape the outcome of the war.  They were used in both offense and defensive attacks and without the invention of planes before the war, the outcome would most likely be different.  Aircraft  was an essential part of war and peace, however planes still began to advance in technology and size.  

Airplanes during this time were not only used as war machines, but as commerical use for the transportation of many people.  On January 1, 1914 the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line became the world’s first scheduled passenger airline service, operating between St. Petersburg and Tampa, Fla.  This flight was 21 miles in distance and was sitting on opposite sides of Tampa Bay.  Tony Jannus was the pilot of this first commercial flight and he paved the way for today’s daily transcontinental flights.  In 1913, a trip between these two cities took two hours by steamship or from 4 to 12 hours by rail. Traveling by car around the bay took about 20 hours. This  flight would take about 20 minutes. This flight was flown in a “flying boat” which was a Model 14 Benoist airboat two passenger plane that weighed less than 1,300 pounds.  The first flight was deployed New Year’s Day in 1914, with much pomp and circumstance. Close to 3,000 people paraded from downtown St. Petersburg to the waterfront to watch as the first ticket was auctioned off. Pfeil, a warehouse business, won with a bid of $400 to fly this fast route.  The airline made two flights every day for six days a week. The regular fare was $5 per person and $5 per 100 pounds of freight. Tickets were sold out for 16 weeks in advance. A second Benoist airboat was added, and flights were extended to Sarasota, Bradenton and Manatee.  The airline went on to carry a total of 1,205 passengers for 4 months till winter.  Tony Jannus created the first modern commercial airline in the United States and he shaped the way we travel today.  By 1938, the first transcontinental flight was accomplished from Berlin to Brooklyn by the airline Lufthansa.  The revolutionary aircraft offered room for 26 passengers who traveled in comfortable seats and for the first time, specially-trained stewardesses were employed onboard and looked after the passengers. Lufthansa showed the world that travel from one side of the world to the other side is possible in less than a day.  People had the chance to travel and see parts of the world they have never seen or even heard of thanks to Lufthansa airlines.

Douglas YC-34 (U.S. Air Force photo)

The small town brothers of Ohio had never imagined they would have changed the world with their magnificent idea for powered flight. The two Wright brothers gave hope and inspired many inventors to build off their brilliant invention and today planes are used most commonly in human’s lives thanks to the many inventors that changed planes for the better.  Planes have been used in many wars, journeys, and since planes have been created, we have been able to travel to places on our earth no one could’ve imagined.  Today we can fly commercial planes for up to 20 hours at one time and can fit up to 300 people in one plane. We have come a long way since the first powered plane was invented and we still have yet to discover and build new and more technological planes. After all, the skies the limit.

Article by Nico Gambetta and Matt Jenner

Works Cited:

“Aircraft and World War One.” History Learning Site,    


History.com Staff. “Wright Brothers.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 2009,



“The First Zeppelins: LZ-1 through LZ-4.” Airships.net,



The Wright Brothers | The First Successful Airplane,



“World’s First Commercial Airline | The Greatest Moments in Flight.” Space.com,


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