About Dr. Richard Stimson
The best scientists throughout history had tried to solve the riddle of controlled powered flight and failed. Yet Orville and Wilbur Wright from Dayton, Ohio found the answer.
They were blessed with uncommon mechanical ability and intelligence. But it was their strength of character and firmness of purpose that gave them the self-confidence to march to their own drummer.
They were comfortable with being different, some say even peculiar. These characteristics helped them to examine the problems of flight in new and original ways.
Wilbur died before I was born. I was fortunate to observe some of Orville’s unique ways while I was growing up. I lived in Oakwood, a city neighboring Dayton, Ohio. Orville, during his later years, lived in Oakwood in a home he built at Hawthorn Hill.
My earliest remembrance about him was when as a youngster in 1940, I heard that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was coming to town on a campaign tour for his third election bid. I heard that the president would be touring through Oakwood in an open limousine with Orville as his guest. With great expectation, I rode my bicycle the nearly two miles to the site that the motorcade would follow.
The motorcade came by with Roosevelt waving at the crowd, but to my disappointment there was no Orville. It wasn’t until years later that I found out why.
The 35-car motorcade had traveled 34 miles through the streets of Dayton to cheering crowds before they entered the city of Oakwood. As they drove through Oakwood, Orville tapped the driver on the shoulder and told him to pull over. Orville got out of the car, shook hands with President Roosevelt, and walked about a mile to his home at Hawthorn Hill. It may have been he was tired of the crowds or it may have been because he was a Republican.
Oakwood High School, that I attended, was only two blocks from Hawthorn Hill, and Orville would sometimes pass by the school on his way to downtown Dayton where he had his laboratory. His license plates were OW-1. Orville liked to drive fast (also his boat housed on Lambert Island, Ontario) and he routinely ignored the City of Oakwood speed limit. The Oakwood police, however, never stopped him. It was reported that they just crossed their fingers, hoping that he wouldn’t have an accident. They had good reason to be concerned, Orville didn’t believe in carrying insurance.
Orville died on January 30, 1948 when I was a junior in high school. All the schools in Dayton were closed on the day of his funeral. I took advantage of the opportunity to attend the viewing because I considered him the man of the century.
After his death, our high school class was able to tour his home on several occasions. Orville had made a number of interesting innovations in the home. One of the most unusual I observed was in the bathroom. In the shower, was a series of showerheads at waist level arranged to spray water on his back. This was for the purpose of easing back pain that plagued him after his near fatal airplane crash at Ft. Myers, Virginia in 1908.
Also in the bathroom, I notice an unusual toilet seat. The shape of the seat was shaped to exactly match the contour of the buttocks. The comfortable seat may also have been for the relief of back pain.
Beneath the bathroom floor, Orville had installed protective shields to prevent any leaks from staining the ceiling below. I was told that Orville did all of his own plumbing.
At a family reunion in Dayton, I found out that relatives of mine had interviewed Orville for the Wilbur Wright high school newspaper. I knew that Orville did not like most reporters, so I asked them about their experience.
They said that they approached the doorbell with apprehension. Carrie, Orville’s maid answered the door and said that Orville didn’t give interviews. But, just as they turned to leave, Orville came to the door. It turned out that he was very gracious and accommodating and gave them the interview. That was another facet of Orville’s personality. Orville liked young people. That made the difference.
Orville and my family shared the same dentist, Dr. Theodore E. Lilly. Orville told Dr. Lilly that contrary to the anti-sugar campaign, he had fewer cavities during the years he ate a lot of candy.
Another relative remembered sitting on Wilbur’s lap at a local store when she was only three years old. The store was located across the street from the Wright Brother’s bicycle shop on West Third St.
A college fraternity brother related the story of his boss at NCR being sent to deliver something to Orville at his home on Hawthorn Hill. Orville answered the door with his sleeves rolled up and dirty hands. Orville invited him in and proceeded to the kitchen where he had dismantled the refrigerator. The parts were scattered around on the floor.
My great-great-grandfather built and lived in the oldest building at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. His name was Henry E. Hebble and he built the house shortly after he migrated from Pennsylvania in 1841.
The house (building 8) is within sight of Huffman Prairie where the Wright Brothers established a flying field in 1904. The residents of the house could observe the flying activities. The Southern edge of the field is defined by Hebble Creek Road.
Hap Arnold learned to fly under the tutorage of Orville Wright at Huffman Prairie along with 118 other pilots. Arnold later became General of the Air Force during World War II and the Air Force’s only 5-star general.
The house became the Commanding Officer’s quarters in 1921 and General Arnold was one of its residents (1929-1931). One of his guests was Orville Wright. In 1984, the house was converted into the Heritage Center for Wright-Patterson AFB and dedicated as the Arnold House in 1986.
Henry’s son, Zebulon, who was my great grandfather, became the Mayor of Fairfield, which later became the current Fairborn, Ohio, located adjacent to Wright-Patterson AFB. The city hall is located on Hebble Street.
Another one of Henry’s sons, William, was an owner of the property that the Foulois House (building 88) now sits on at WPAFB.
At the “Inventing Flight” celebration in Dayton, I was fortunate to speak to John Glenn on three occasions.
Dr. Stimson is a member of the First Flight Society, Wright “B” Flyer Club and a former U.S. Park Service volunteer at the Wright Brothers’ Memorial in Kill Devil Hills, NC. He received a volunteer of the year award from the governor of NC in 2003.
Degrees: BSME University of Cincinnati; MBA & Ph.D. The Ohio State University.