Wright Brothers – Honoring the Wright Brothers

Articles relating to the honoring of the Wright Brothers.

The Oakwood Planning Commission has turned down the request by the Wright Family Foundation, owner of Hawthorn Hill, to open the Wrights’ home to limited public tours.

Stephen Wright, Wright brothers descendant, Oakwood resident, and one of the foundation’s trustees, said that the negative decision has been appealed to the Oakwood City Council.

The proposed tour protocol is very modest. Public tours would be limited to just two a day two days a week between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. This is a reduction to the original proposal of four days a week. The other requirements are:

The tours would begin from Carillon Park in Dayton. A specially designated van would ferry no more than 16 visitors to Hawthorn Hill.

No special exemption would be made for opening the home for visits from area schools. An exemption to this policy would be made for Oakwood High School. I am a graduate of the school and I am fortunate to have been able to visit the home several times.

There would be no sales from the home including souvenirs or food.

Lastly, visitors would be able to take photographs of the home’s exterior, limited to 15 people at a time and remaining within 25 feet of the property line.

The City of Oakwood is home to Hawthorne Hill. It is a lovely mansion situated on a high hill and was designed by the Wright brothers. Orville lived there for 34 years until he died in 1948. Wilbur died in 1912 before the house was completed and never lived there. The house is designated a National Historic Landmark.

The Wrights bought the land in 1911 or 1912. It was the site of Oakwood’s first water tower. They named the hill Hawthorn Hill after the name of their boyhood home on Hawthorne St. and also in honor of the prickly-needled Hawthorn tree that once stood in the middle of Huffman Prairie and the Hawthorn trees on their new Oakwood property.

In addition to Orville, his sister Katharine and his father, Bishop Wright moved into the house in 1914. Their old home in Dayton had been badly damaged by the great Dayton flood of 1913.

Many famous people visited Orville while he lived in the mansion including Charles Lindbergh, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, General Hap Arnold, General Billy Mitchell, Admiral Richard Byrd, Henry Ford, and Carl Sandburg. Ivonette Wright Miller, Orville’s niece, was married there with about 60 guests in attendance.

One of the unique things about the house is that Orville designed many of the mechanical features of the house, many of them while he lived there. The National Park Service declared the house a national landmark in 1991.

Upon Orville’s death the house was offered for sale to the public. There was a proposal for the City of Oakwood to buy the house. The Oakwood City Council scotched the idea because they would have to propose a bond issue to raise the money. I guess they weren’t too concerned about how the mansion would be used in those days.

The NCR stepped up and bought the house for $75,000 fearing that it might fall into the wrong hands. Also Orville was a good friend of many top executives of NCR including John Patterson, Edward Deeds and Charles Kettering. NCR used it as a corporate retreat and VIP guesthouse.

The most important thing is that NCR has kept the house in pristine condition. Many other Dayton buildings associated with the Wrights have either been moved out of Dayton, such as their boyhood home and their last bicycle shop. Others no longer exist, such as Orville’s laboratory that was torn down to be replaced by a gas station.

The NCR donated the house to the Wright Family Foundation on August 18th, 2006, the day before Orville’s birthday. Amanda Wright Lane, great-grand niece and Stephen Wright, great-grand nephew, are trustees of the foundation. They are related to Orville and Wilbur by blood and marriage. NCR stipulated that the foundation make an effort to transfer ownership to the National Park Service. The foundation has started the process to do just that but it may take a few years to accomplish the transfer.

What follows may be a partial explanation of some of Oakwood resident’s negative attitude towards opening Hawthorn Hill to the public.

Oakwood is a small city of less than 3 square miles geographically surrounded by the cities of Dayton and Kettering. Homes range in price from about $300,000 to nearly $1 million. It has no industry. Population is around 9,000 residents.

Oakwood is the product of John Patterson, founder and president of NCR. Patterson envisioned Oakwood as a bedroom of Dayton as it is today. His influence led to generous lot sizes and academic excellence in the school system. The school system is still outstanding and regularly sends most of its high school graduates to college.

The early city received a jump-start when Patterson encouraged his executives and later his foreman to move to the new village.

The city’s fixed area is comfortable and livable. The median family income is around $88,000. The absence of industry keeps the city clean. Although most of the housing is older and the tax rate is high, but the excellent schools draw people to the city.

A little known fact is that a secret research facility in Oakwood during WW II produced polonium that made the first atomic bomb possible.

Many residents have lived in Oakwood for many years. They tend to be conservative in philosophy.

Some close neighbors to the mansion are against the proposal. Here is an example: “All I can think of are tacky tourists, feet over running, tacky rubber flip flops, with their slurpees, big gulps, mistys, and frostys tearing my darling Oakwood. It breaks my heart to see it become so pedestrian.”

Not all Oakwood people are against it: “It sounds like the Wright Foundation has taken every possible step to insure these tours are handled in the proper way. Hawthorn Hill is a true treasure that should be viewed by the public.”

Many people in Oakwood are embarrassed by, and cringing at, what has occurred. They have been working behind the scenes to ensure that the city council reverses the planning commission’s decision.

The Dayton Daily News in an editorial wrote: “Oakwood’s elected officials need to do the right thing. Overruling the planning commission doesn’t require courage, just common sense.”

Latest news: The Oakwood City Council on July 2nd voted to open the Wright home for public tours. The vote was unanimous with one abstention. No date was announced for when the tours would start.

Later news: Conducted tours of Hawthorn Hill are to begin on Saturday, Sept. 1, with 45-minute tours planned to follow on Wednesdays and Saturdays thereafter. Dayton History. a historical preservation organization based in Dayton’s Carillon Historical Park, will sell tickets for the tours and conduct them.

There is a maximum of 14 visitors that can be handled at a time. They will be taken by van at 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. from Carillon Park to Hawthorn Hill and back. The tours will be conducted throughout the year.

References: Dayton Daily News; Oakwood: The Far Hills by Bruce Ronald and Virginia Ronald.

On December 17, 2003 there will be a grand celebration at the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills, NC to celebrate the first flight that took place there on December 17, 1903. It is being billed as the event of the century. The occasion will include air shows, a hot-air balloon race, and the most exciting of all, an actual flight of an exact reproduction of the 1903 Wright Flyer.

With thousands of visitors expected to attend the five day event, it will be a boon to tourism. That is exactly what Congressman Lindsay C. Warren had in mind in 1926 when he proposed the memorial in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the first successful powered, heavier-than-air flight, and also as a means of attracting tourist dollars to boost the Outer Banks.

The area needed a boost. Orville Wright once commented that the outer banks were “like the Sahara.”

Today, the memorial, a great 60-foot pylon of Mount Airy granite quarried in NC with wings sculpted into the sides and an aeronautical beacon on top, can be seen for miles at night. Since its dedication in 1932, it has exceeded Congressman Warren’s greatest dream.

The Proposal

Warren’s proposal for a memorial received strong support from the local citizens and NC legislators. Some Dayton citizens were not happy because they wanted the memorial in Dayton. However, before the Ohio delegation could mount an effective campaign, Senator Hiram Bingham of Connecticut, a friend of Warren and the President of the National Aeronautical Society, quickly introduced a $50,000 appropriation bill to build the memorial at Kill Devil Hills. The bill passed both houses of Congress and was signed into law by President Coolidge on March 2, 1927.

Neither the Congress nor the Fine Arts Commission could agree on what the memorial should look like. About 35 designs were presented. Some of the ideas were bizarre. Senator Bingham wanted a Greek Temple made of granite from his home state of Connecticut.

Time was drawing short because the anniversary was in 1928. So, they decided to lay a cornerstone on top of Kill Devil Hill for the anniversary and decide later on the nature of the monument.

At the same time they decided to place a commemorative six-foot granite boulder at the spot where the Flyer took off. There was a problem. No one knew for sure where that spot was. In the intervening twenty-five years, the sands had shifted.

Fortunately, they found three surviving witnesses of the first flight who were willing to help find the spot. Two of them had been from the lifesaving station and one had been a boy who just happened to wander by. On November 4,1928, they met and came to an agreement as best they could as to the exact location.

The Ceremony Became a Calamity

The plan was to hold an International Civil Aeronautics Conference in Washington, D.C. Orville Wright and members of his family would be honored guests. After the conference the 200 attendees would travel to Kitty Hawk, NC for the ceremony.

The Achilles Heel in the plan was the gross underestimation of the difficulty of traveling to Kitty Hawk in those days with that many people.

The road down the Currituck County, NC peninsula was under construction, but not finished. There was no bridge at that time over the sound to Kitty Hawk, and there was only a crude corduroy road in the sand through Kitty Hawk to Big Kill Devil Hill.

On Saturday, December 15, the 200 conference attendees boarded the steamer, District of Columbia, for the trip to Norfolk, VA. The first of many problems presented itself even before they left the dock. A heavy fog delayed departure for four hours until 2 a.m. The continued presence of mist and patches of fog meant slow passage to Norfolk and necessitated a stay on the steamer over night.

The next day they piled into buses for the trip down the Currituck peninsula. That part of the trip went well until they reached the end of the paved road. The buses couldn’t negotiate the rest of the way, so everyone was transferred to a fleet of seventy automobiles. In some places the automobiles had to detour around muddy roads by driving over resident’s front yards and farmlands.

After reaching Point Harbor at the end of the peninsula, they transferred to a ferry. On the ferry trip to Kitty Hawk, one man somehow fell overboard and almost drowned before being rescued.

At Kitty Hawk, another fleet of cars driven by local farmers drove the attendees through the sand to Big Kill Devil Hill. Along the way, the nice ladies of Dare County treated them to lunch.

The last challenge for the attendees was the tough climb up the 90-foot Big Kill Devil Hill for the ceremony.

The ceremony held that December 17 went according to plan except that the high winds that made it almost impossible for anyone to hear the dedication speeches by Senator Hiram Bingham and Secretary of War, Dwight Davis.

Orville Wright placed sealed documents and descriptions of the first flight in a special box in the cornerstone. Orville, typically modest, turned to Congressman Warren, whose idea it was to build the memorial, and said that this whole thing might be a mistake. “To do it now seems like an imposition on the taxpayers.”

Then everyone went back down the hill and reassembled at the spot of the takeoff of the first flight. There, the six-foot boulder was dedicated to mark the event. The famous aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart proclaimed the “Queen of the Air” by the United Press, stood next to Orville during the ceremony.

She was not an official delegate to the aviation conference but she was invited to accompany the 200 delegates on the trip from Washington. She wrote to her mother, “I was considered important enough to be the guest of the government so I am riding and eating free…”

The trip home by the attendees, if possible, was an even worse experience. Many automobiles left early because of the cold, leaving a number of attendees stranded. This caused some of them to miss the returning ferry. They were diverted to a leaking rumrunner patrol boat that proceeded to get lost.

On the ferry, Allen Heuth, a New Jersey sportsman who with Frank and Charles Baker had donated the land for the memorial, keeled over and died of a heart attack while talking to the Secretary of War Davis.

Building the Memorial

A great pylon of granite was selected as the winning design for the memorial. Robert P. Rodgers and Alfred E. Poor, New York architects, were the winning architects.

In selecting the design the commission of Fine Arts and the Joint Congressional commission stated that it was “not only the most original and impressive as seen from land, but would also be extremely effective as seen from the air. It strongly manifests the dominant motive suggested in the program, namely, a memorial to the birth of human flight.”

The job of building the memorial consisting of a great pylon of granite was assigned to the Army Quartermaster Corps. In charge was Captain John A. Gilman, who had just completed building the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery. The work on the memorial started in 1929.

The job presented a major engineering challenge. Big Kill Devil Hill was a 90-foot high, shifting sand dune that had to be stabilized. It was estimated that it had moved some 400 to 600 feet since the first flight in 1903.

Gilman began by fencing off the dune to keep out the cattle and pigs. Then, he spread two inches of mulch extending 300 feet up the hill. Next, he planted a hardy mixture of imported grass. Once that took root, he extended it up the rest of the slope.

Along with the grass, a cactus known as Prickly Pear was added. It hugs the ground and grows to the size of a pear. It may have been an effective ground cover but its up to inch long needles can be a pain to walkers. During the ensuing years it has spread throughout the park.

It took about a year for the vegetation to stabilize the hill. Work on constructing the monument itself began in February 1931.

Foundations were sunk 35 feet into the hill. The base on top of the hill consisted of a five-pointed star. Above the star rose a 60-foot high triangular pylon, making the total height of the memorial 151-feet measured from sea level. Marble from Salisbury and Mount Airy, NC were used in the construction.


On November 19, 1932, Kill Devil Hills Monument was dedicated. (On December 1, 1953 it was renamed the Wright Brothers National Memorial)

Unlike the trip for the cornerstone laying in 1928, this time the trip for the participants was much easier. The roads to Kitty Hawk were paved and there was a new bridge, appropriately named the Wright Memorial Bridge, connecting the Outer Banks with the Currituck Peninsula.

The weather, however, was another story. A heavy downpour of rain drenched a weather reduced crowd of attendees. A make shift canvas covering stretched over the speaker’s platform as a shelter was torn away by the wind.

The airship Akron was turned away. Airplanes based at the army’s Langley Field were unable to take off, but a Navy biplane and two Coast Guard seaplanes were able to fly over the celebration and dip their wings in salute.

An address by Congressman Warren was cut short. A letter from President Hoover was read by Secretary of War, Patrick Hurley and then handed to Orville, who said a simple “thank you” and placed it in his pocket. The assembled group was not aware that President Hoover thought it was absurd to build the memorial at Kitty Hawk.

Ruth Nichols unveiled the granite pylon as the National Anthem was played by the Coast Artillery Band from Fort Monroe, Va.

By 1931 Ruth Nichols had flown higher and faster than any other woman in the world. She was an early favorite to be the first woman to repeat Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight but failed when her airplane crashed in St. John, New Brunswick on her attempt on June 22, 1931.

An interesting note is that Orville was not listed on the program at his request. When it was time for him to come forward many people in the densely packed crowd did not recognize him and he had to push his way through them.

The inscription around the base of the memorial reads:

“In Commemoration of the Conquest of the Air by the Brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright – Conceived by Genius – Achieved by Dauntless Resolution and Unconquerable Faith.”

Other Wright Memorials

There is another memorial marker at Kitty Hawk that is little publicized. It is a simple obelisk in Bill Tate’s front yard that was dedicated by the citizens of Kitty Hawk in 1928. (See picture at the beginning of this article.)Tate is the one who responded to Wilbur Wright’s letter of inquiry about a suitable place to perform glider experiments and convinced him to come to Kitty Hawk.

On the obelisk is a carved image of the 1900 glider placed above the inscription that states that on this spot is where Wilbur began to assemble the Wright Brothers first experimental glider.

Dayton did belatedly dedicate their memorial to the Wrights on Orville’s 69th birthday August 19, 1940. The first proposal for a memorial in Dayton had been made in 1912. The memorial was to be built on Huffman Prairie where the Wrights conducted some 120 flights after 1903. A fund drive was underway when the great Dayton flood temporarily terminated the effort.

The completed Dayton memorial is a multifaceted thirty-foot shaft of pink North Carolina marble. It stands on a hill with a view of Huffman Prairie in the distance. Both the Monument and Huffman Prairie are now a part of the Wright Patterson Air Force Base complex.

People will again assemble around the memorials in 2003 celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the first flight.

The citizens of Dayton on October 12, 1927 donated a large tract of land for the site of the new Wright Field. The new Wright Field would house facilities for carrying on and expanding the experimental and research work of the Air Corps at McCook Field in Dayton.

This is the story behind this event beginning with the occasion of Orville Wright returning to the airplane business.

In 1917, Orville was back in the airplane business again in Dayton. This time he didn’t own the company named Dayton-Wright Airplane Company, but was a technical advisor. Six Dayton businessmen formed the new company. The president of the company was Edward Deeds, a vice-president and later president of the NCR Company. The vice-president was Charles Kettering, the noted inventor. Both were good friends of Orville.

A new factory was built at Moraine City, just south of Dayton. In addition, a flying school was formed and land procured just north of downtown Dayton and named North Field. In 1917, North field was leased to the Army and renamed McCook Field. Orville was instrumental in selecting the location.

The new investors hoped to make Dayton the manufacturing center of the United States using modern automobile production techniques to mass produce airplanes.

Fortuitously, the United States declared war on Germany five days before the new company was incorporated. Subsequently, the Dayton-Wright Company received a contract to deliver 4,000 modified British De Havilland DH-4 combat planes and 400 J-1 trainers.

The DH-4 was a 2-bay airplane with a 42-1/2 foot wing span. Its fuselage was about 30 feet long. It was armed with two Lewis guns in the rear cockpit, and one or two Marlin forward firing guns.

Following the world war the government began to figure seriously on abandonment of the McCook experimental field, where so much of useful aviation activity had been carried out during the conflict. The Miami River surrounded McCook field on one side and city of Dayton housing, the other. It could not be enlarged. The Air Staff had realized for some time that McCook Field’s physical facilities were inadequate to handle all of the work involved in the Army aviation research and procurement programs.

The search for a permanent home had begun before the end of World War I. Langley Field in Virginia was frequently mentioned as a likely site. After the war, cities across the country submitted competing proposals to the Army, offering land and facilities to house engineering activities. Dayton was faced with the prospect of losing McCook’s activities to another location.

John H. Patterson, founder and president of the National Cash Register Co (NCR), vowed to keep Army aviation in Dayton and began a local campaign to raise money to purchase land large enough for a new field. The land would then be donated to the U. S. Army with the understanding that it would become home of the Engineering Division. Orville was consulted on the selection of the this location.

Mr. Patterson died in 1922 before his plan could be carried out.

Fortunately, his son, Frederick B. Patterson, inherited both his father’s position at NCR as well as his interest in keeping Army aviation research and development activities in Dayton. In 1922, Frederick Patterson organized the Dayton Air Service Committee, a coalition of prominent Daytonians and businessmen dedicated to raising the money necessary to purchase land for the Air Service.

Calling on the citizenry of Dayton, Frederick B. Patterson laid plans for a campaign, which had in mind the acquirement of 5,000 acres of land near Dayton, to be presented to the government free of charge. The land included the existing Wilbur Wright Field that was leased by the Air Service. It also included the Wright brothers’ flying field on Huffman Prairie.

The campaign lasted two days and resulted in subscriptions totally $425,000. With this money farms were bought and land secured and accepted by the United States government. The new facility was named Wright Field in honor of the Wright brothers.

President Coolidge himself thanked President Patterson and the Dayton committee for the patriotic endeavors. Some 600 people and businesses contributed to the fund.

The dedication of the Wright Field, which was held on October 12, 1927, is a monument to the perseverance, foresight and patriotism of father and son. Photograph shows Orville Wright and Secretary of War Dwight F. Davis at the dedication

The present Wright Field occupies this land and is a fitting testimonial to the fine service rendered to the government by Dayton citizens.

The dedication ceremony was a grand occasion attended by Orville Wright and numerous military and political dignitaries. The crowd was thrilled with parachute jumps and flight demonstrations by McCook Field test pilots, including Lt. James “JImmy” Doolittle.

In 1928, The National Aeronautical Association wanted to suitably mark the spot where Orville Wright first began to move along the ground when the first flight was made.

The Association asked Bill Tate to assemble the eyewitnesses to the event for the purpose of agreeing and marking the spot.

The eyewitnesses were:

Adam Etheridge, John Daniels, and Will Dough from the local lifesaving station, and W.C. Brinkley, a local lumber buyer from Manteo, and Johnny Moore, a young man who lived with his mother in a shack in Nags Head woods.

Tate was able to find Dough, Etheridge, and Moore to perform the task. Daniels and Orville Wright were not able to attend. The others were deceased.

The task was not easy because the landscape had significantly changed since 1903. Getting the correct spot was important because the association was planning to erect a monument at the spot and they did not want any future disputes over the location.

Here are the exact words (misspellings and all) of their finding:

“Beginning with the site of the building which housed the Wrights’ plane at the time, distinctly remembering the wind direction at the time, and that the track was laid directly in the wind, collaborating our memory on these facts by the records of the Weather Bureau, remembering that we helped bring the machine from the building and placed it on the track, referring to distances laid down in feet in Orville Wrights article, “How We made our first flight.”

“We proceeded to agree upon the spot, and we individually and collectively state without the least mental reservation, that the spot we located is as near correct as it is humanly possible to be with the data in hand to work from after a lapse of twenty five years. We marked the spot with a copper pipe driven into the ground.”

In 1932 at this location, The American Aeronautical Association placed a large granite boulder containing a commemorative plaque consisting of the pictures of Orville and Wilbur and a statement that reads, “THEY TAUGHT US TO FLY.”

The nonprofit Aviation Heritage Foundation has a vision for Dayton to boast their aviation heritage that would cost $500 million over the next 15 to 20 years. The center piece of a 10 point grand design is a Aviation Theme park that would cost $330 million and attract 6 to 7 million visitors.

It comes at the right time. Delphi Corporation, which has five plants in Dayton employing some 5,700 employees, is in bankruptcy and just announced they plan on closing four of the five plants threatening 5,500 jobs.

Here some of the elements of the still evolving plan:

1: An aviation heritage icon on the scale of the Gateway Arch in St Louis to brand the region. One group already has a plan to build a larger-than-life replica of the Wright Flyer near the interchange of two main Interstates, 70 and 75, which are located near Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the Air Force Museum and Huffman Prairie. There are some 220,000 motorists that flow through this intersection each day.

The replica Flyer would be made of polished stainless steel and weigh 80,000 pounds with a 125-foot wingspan. It will sit on a 220 foot column and be visible from mile away. One Montgomery County commissioner says, “It will catch the eye of the world and really shows this is the home of the Wright brothers.”

Location, size and cost are still being debated. The design is a product of University students

2: Sound and light show. Dayton already has built such a facility in downtown Dayton along the Miami River.

3: Air and Space theme park. This would be a Disney-like theme park costing about $300 million. It would feature virtual reality flight simulators and other attractions that would blend fun with education. Most of the investors would come from outside the region.

4: Wright Factory Delphi currently owns the approximately one-acre site that contains the original Wright factory buildings. This is one of the facilities that Delphi has on its list to close.

The Wrights built the two factory buildings occupying 67-acres in 1910 to build their airplanes. The buildings are still in use as factory buildings by Delphi. It is the nation’s first factory to mass-produce airplanes. These buildings are well maintained and could be turned into replica factories showing Wright airplanes in various stages of construction.

5: Open Hawthorne Hill to the public, Orville and Katharine’s home in Oakwood. This may be one of the most difficult to implement. The home is owned by NCR and the up-scale neighborhood around the home doesn’t want buses full of tourists.

6: Recreational vehicle park for the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.

7: WACO Museum and Aviation Learning Center in Troy, Ohio. Make this a premier youth camp focused on aviation.

8: Wright Flyer replica flights on Huffman Prairie. These flights take place now but need better and closer facilities to house the Flyer.

Connect the Wright Memorial park to Huffman Prairie by a new road and bridge over highway 444.

9: A rail trolley connecting key aviation sites. The rail trolley would simulate the Dayton-Springfield-Urbana railroad that Orville and Wilbur rode from their home in downtown Dayton to Huffman Prairie.

10: Reorient the Dayton Air Show to showcase Dayton’s role in aviation.

Anthony Sculimbrene, the Aviation Heritage Foundation’s Director, states that the plan will have two parts – a five year plan aimed at modestly increasing tourism by about 50%, and a “grand design” for a ten fold increase over 15 to 20 years.

He emphatically says, “We are going to make Dayton the global center of aviation heritage.”

The Dayton Development Coalition spokesman Evan Scott adds, “We don’t strive for a small vision.”

References: Dayton Daily News, March 19, 2006; Dayton Business Daily, Jan. 15, 2006