Famous Wright brothers historian galvanizes Wright State students

‘The Wright Brothers’ author David McCullough conducts master class for students.


Two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough conducted a master class for Wright State University history students this morning.

“History isn’t just about politics and war. It also involves everything to do with human creativity,” said McCullough, whose latest book, “The Wright Brothers,” is a New York Times No. 1 bestseller.

“I think that the Wright brothers are a lesson in history if ever there was,” said the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian honor.

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McCullough shared insights from his research on the world’s first pilots, Wilbur and Orville Wrights, as well as their father, Milton, and sister, Katharine.

Growing up in southwest Ohio is an important part of understanding the Wright brothers, McCullough said. He noted that the region, which is very Midwestern with a “nothing fancy” sensibility, is also the birthplace of Neil Armstrong (from Wapakoneta), who was the first man to set foot on the moon.

The lessons were rich for WSU history students. Some of their takeaways:

“He validates the importance of learning through archiving and museum studies. He’s basically validating our future.” — Victoria Chadbourne

“He values persistence and strength in the face of adversity.” — Justin Risner

Another takeaway: “The value of looking at stories that may be obvious to you may not be obvious to others.” — Jackie Heiss

McCullough is in town for the dedication of Wright State University’s newly renovated Creative Arts Center. So is two-time Academy Award-winning actor Tom Hanks.

It’s no coincidence that the two are here today. Hanks and McCullough are collaborating on an HBO miniseries based on McCullough’s New York Times No. 1 bestselling book, “The Wright Brothers.” The book and the production of the miniseries are bringing renewed attention to Dayton and its historical significance.

Earlier in the morning, McCullough, Hanks and members of the Wright family spent time at Huffman Prairie, where the Wrights worked to perfect flight. One of the people accompanying them is Dawn Dewey, the Head of Special Collections and Archives at WSU’s library.

“We were out at Huffman Prairie at 8 a.m.,” Dewey said. “It was really a unique opportunity to listen to these people who are so passionate about this history. Tom Hanks was truly excited and interested in hearing all the stories.”

Last June, a month after the release of “The Wright Brothers,” McCullough was in town to talk about Dayton’s most famous brothers. He’s made a career of keeping American history alive through his many works, including “Truman,” “John Adams” and “1776.” In addition to writing books, McCullough is a documentary narrator, having worked with historian/filmmaker Ken Burns on projects including “The Civil War.”


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