It was while on a business trip that Milton saw the tiny toy helicopter in the shop window. The paper tag on which the price was hand inscribed said “50 cents,” but there was something about that clever little plaything that made it especially worthwhile. It could fly, or at least, so Milton surmised, noticing the attachment of rubber bands to its uncomplicated mechanism. Milton walked inside the shop, “50 cents for the little helicopter,” he said to the clerk.” Well, yes,” the clerk answered, but you understand that it’s a kit, it has to be put together. “Oh, that is particularly delightful,” Milton exclaimed. And then he explained that he’d once been a schoolteacher, and from this experience he had retained some very specific ideas about education. “The real challenge,” he happily expounded, “is winning a pupil’s interest. Once he is fascinated with something, it would be impossible to prevent him from learning about it.”
“I take that you have children of your own,” said the clerk. “Oh yes,” Milton answered, “grammar school age.” He and his wife had encouraged them to read and ask questions and to think for themselves from the time they were quite small. And they’d like nothing better than to build a little helicopter and watch it fly. Milton had always believed in the power of educational toys to stimulate intellect, and this particular one was among the best that he had ever seen. “And which model would you like,” the clerk asked? What were his choices, Milton wanted to know. “Oh my goodness,” answered the clerk, “there’s one that rises to a height of 50 feet or so and then falls without harming itself. There’s one that shoots upward about as high, but then glides gently back to earth. There’s one that ascends 25 feet and hovers in mid-air for as long as half a minute.”
Well, Milton purchased the model that seemed most intriguing and he hurried home to Cedar Rapids, Iowa that afternoon, thoroughly pleased with himself for having discovered such a gift and he was quite eager to present it. “What did you bring us, daddy?” That was the familiar greeting at the door. “What did you bring us, daddy?” And from behind his back, Milton, grinning broadly, produced this neatly wrapped toy. Well, the boys tore off the wrapping like frenzied predators. “Do you like it?” Milton asked, hopefully. My, how they liked it. After carefully assembling the little helicopter, they wound up its rubber band motor again and again and again indoors that night, watching it rise and bob against the ceiling, outdoors the next morning, cheering as it soared to dizzying heights as high as a tree, and then sailed back to them in lazy circles.
Milton, convinced as he was of his educational theories, could never have imagined how correct he had been this once. For you see his two youngest sons were then ages 11 and seven, and they would remember all of the rest of their days that one day in the autumn of 1878, when their father brought them a little helicopter toy, a 50 cent play thing, ostensibly, and yet a play thing, which was to awaken in them a passion that changed their lives forever after. And our lives as well. You’d never met the educator turned minister, who returning from a trip on church business, bestowed a tiny yet enormous gift to his boys, just an interested father named Milton Wright. All of your life, you’ve known his sons, Wilbur and Orville. Only now you know… the rest of the story.
– Paul Harvey