Others

Katharine Wright

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Others

Katharine Wright

Katharine Wright, sister of Orville and Wilbur Wright, inventors of the first heavier than air powered flying machine, was the only Wright sibling to graduate from college.

Interestingly, Milton Wright, the children’s father, claimed that he gave his children distinctive first names so that they had no need for middle names. In addition, Katharine’s brothers bestowed upon her the nickname of “Swes” which is an affectionate German derivative for “Little Sister.”

Although she was indeed her brothers little sister, Katharine had a short childhood, since her mother Susan Wright’s early death from the effects of tuberculosis when Katharine was but 15, threw her into the role of the lady of the house with all its duties. The loss was devastating for her, but at a suggestion by her father, Katharine found solace in the collection of many varieties of flowers which she dried and pressed into an album that she kept with her always.

Not only did Katharine have household duties, but she also inherited other responsibilities. Because her father was a Bishop and an important leader in the United Brethren Church, Katharine found that she must also be a hostess at her father’s church functions at home and when he traveled as well as being head of the Wright household.

Actually there were five Wright children in the Wright household, but the youngest ones, Orville, Wilbur and Katharine were exceptionally close as they were growing up. It has been speculated that Will, Orv, and Kate had made a pact never to marry. Since the three of them enjoyed each other’s company. However, as Katharine grew into adulthood, she drew the attention of quite a few gentleman admirers, related to the fact that she was described as “Having coal black hair, deep blue eyes and a smile that could blind you.” She was also very out-going and comfortable engaging anyone in conversation.

It was her father, Milton, who determined that Katharine should have the advantage of attending a college so that she could realize a career to depend upon. It was he who chose teaching as the ideal career opportunity for Katharine. She excelled in the language arts, but did not do well in mathematics. Katharine attended the co-educational Oberlin College in Northern Ohio, one of the first to admit women and did indeed graduate with a teaching degree. Katharine returned to her home town of Dayton, Ohio, and taught at Steele High School. Her first assignment was to teach beginning Latin.

By 1901, Katharine found that her Latin class, a required course for all the students, had poor students as well as good ones and some disruptive students. As the only sister of four older brothers, she was no stranger to boisterous behavior. That and her self-assurance and natural bossiness made her more than a match for teenage boys. She was ready for them and nipped their smartness in the bud.

Managing to bring some of the rich social life she had enjoyed in college home to Dayton with her, Katharine initiated parties, bicycle outings and camping trips from her home. When Orville and Wilbur were working on achieving actual flight for their heavier than air powered flying machine, Katharine helped them by watching over their bicycle shop, paying bills, depositing receipts and fighting with the help. {She and Charlie Taylor, the Wright’s machinist, were not fond of one another}

In 1902 when the brothers were laboring at home before taking their plans to Kitty Hawk, NC, Katharine complained “the flying machine is in the process of making now. Will spins the sewing machine around by the hour while Orv squats around marking the places to sew. There is no place in the house to live but I’ll be lonesome enough by this time next week and wish that I could have some of their racket around.”

However, Katharine found another phase added to her life when extended family members needed care-giving following illness and then again when Orville was seriously injured from a crash while flying, she took emergency leave from teaching school to tend to his needs.

When the Wrights went to Europe in 1907, Katharine’s found that her unofficial position for them at home increased. She corresponded with newspapers and magazines for them and answered queries for scientific information, screened business offers and politely handled cranks.

In 1909 Katharine requested an extended leave of absence and traveled with Orville to join Wilbur in France to help sell their flying machine to the French. Katharine provided the social chemistry the Wrights needed to make their enterprise work. She also learned to speak fluent French while she was there.

When Katharine returned home, she renewed her friendship with a gentleman by the name of Harry Haskell she had met at Oberlin College and that led to marriage. It was a marriage that was frowned upon by her brother Orville, who refused to speak to her after she had married. In spite of Orville’s painfully selfish reaction to her marriage, Katharine was extremely happy in her new life. Then when Katharine fell ill with pneumonia, and lay dying, Orville finally relented and hurried to her side just before she passed on.

File Photo: Bain News Service

On the beautiful morning of June 21, 2004, some 100 years after the first flight of the Wright Flyer, SpaceShipOne flew a short flight of less than 90 minutes into space 62 miles above the earth. It was one giant step for the entrepreneur spirit.

In 1903, the thought of people traveling in the air from city to city seemed impossible. Today space exploration, both private and public, is still just getting off the ground.

Rutan said, “today’s flight marks a critical turning point in the history of aerospace. We have redefined travel, as we know it. Our success proves without question that manned space does not require mammoth expenditures. It can be done by a small company with limited resources and a few dozen dedicated employees.”

Rutan, 61, a college educated aeronautical engineer, founded Scaled Composites in the early 1900s. He has a reputation for his innovative approach to aircraft design. His genius seems to lie in his ability to combine a number of unrelated innovations into one design.

His interest in airplanes started at an early age. He was a competition aero modeler as a teenager. Many people first heard of him when one of his designs, the Voyager, flew around the world nonstop on a 9-day flight. Dick Rutan, Burt’s brother piloted the plane in 1986.

SpaceShipOne started its flight attached underneath the belly of another one of Rutan’s unique planes he developed from scratch, named the White Knight.

Using a mother ship reduces the expense and danger of a rocket launch from the ground.

The White Night took off from a normal runway witnessed by thousands of spectators who lined the grounds of the Mojave Desert Airport. The two vehicles joined together looked like something out of a Buck Rodgers comic book.

The twin turbo-fan powered White Knight carried the SpaceShipOne up to approximately 50,000-feet altitude to start the space flight. At that altitude they are through about 85% of the earth’s atmosphere. (Note: Cruising altitudes for some jets is 35,000-feet).

The pilot of SpaceShipOne was Michael Melvill. Melvill was born in South Africa and later became an U.S. citizen. He has worked for Rutan for 26 years and has flown all kinds of airplanes.

When SpaceShipOne disconnected from the mother ship, it glided for about 10-seconds while Melvill trimmed the craft ready for the rocket boost. He then threw a switch that fired the rocket motor capable of generating 17,000-pounds of thrust that accelerated the craft to twice the speed of sound.

This unique rocket motor was designed from scratch by Rutan’s design team. They had never made a rocket motor before just as the Wright brothers designed and built their own original 12-hp engine for the Flyer.

The rocket fuel consisted of tire rubber as the fuel and laughing gas as the oxidizer. The laughing gas self-pressures at room temperature, eliminating the need for the complicated systems of pumps and pipes typical in rocket engines. This saves money and weight.

When the rocket motor fired, Melvill immediately commenced a pullout maneuver to point the nose vertically in order to fly straight up to sub-orbital space. The craft continued to accelerate straight-out for a minute or so until the rocket burned out at about 150,000-feet. At this point the craft was going twice the speed of sound, straight out and coasting. The pilot felt about 3-4 g’s.

From there it coasted another some 150,000-feet until it reached apogee, about 62-miles above sea level.

Unfortunately, during this phase a control problem developed. The Wright brothers also encountered control problems on December 17, 1903. They had great difficulty maintaining pitch control.

After motor ignition, Melvill’s craft rolled to the left and then rolled to the right and experienced trim problems as the craft hit horizontal wind shear. To make matters worse, he experienced a temporary failure of the left stabilizer trim motor. The failure was caused by the trim motor reaching the stop and blowing its circuit breaker, which automatically reset itself in 3 seconds.

He had to fight to stabilize the craft. He said later “It never ever did that before.” He said he thought, “he was going to be a squashed bug.”

He briefly considered aborting or trying a high-risk bailout. He quickly dismissed that thought because a bailout would have destroyed the craft.

Fortunately, the craft had built-in backup controls. He switched to them and was able to regain mastery of the controls.

Because of the control problem, the craft varied from its planned trajectory and the apogee occurred at 328,491-feet instead of 360,000-feet. It was still good enough to reach the threshold of space of 62-miles.

Just before apogee, the craft was reconfigured for the next phase. Melvill flipped a switch that started a very unusual and clever procedure. The switch activated pneumatic actuators that moved the tail and back half of the wing and reconfigured the craft into a “jack-knifed position” for re-entry into the atmosphere.

The transformation took 15-seconds and the back half of the craft moved up 65 degrees.

In this configuration the craft acts as a stable badminton shuttlecock as it follows a ballistic trajectory through the apogee and starts its fall back to earth. At this point the pilot has no control.

This hinged or “feathering” wing configuration is the most innovative feature of the craft’s aerodynamic design. It provided a rock-solid stability at supersonic speed.

As the craft passed through the apogee, it picked up speed from zero as it fell back into the atmosphere. Melvill experienced weightlessness for about 3 1/2 minutes.

He had smuggled a package of “M and Ms” on board. He opened the package and let them go. “They stayed there spinning like little satellites.”

The craft fell towards earth into denser and denser air. The “jack knifed” craft presents to the atmosphere its full whole belly and the tremendous drag it created slowed the craft as it fell.

He experienced about 5 – 6 g’s during the deceleration. Only an experienced pilot, like Melvill, could remain conscious at these g’s.

Melvill experienced another potential problem. He heard some disconcerting loud rumbling noises in the engine area and shaking during this phase.

During the fall, only moderate heat was generated from the graphite-epoxy composite materials of the craft. Some hotter sections were treated with trowel-on ablative thermal protection. The insulation material worked as designed to protect the craft from the 1,100-degree temperatures of reentry.

As Melvill neared 50,000-feet, he flipped a switch and the craft turned back into the normal configuration with a tail.

He dived out of that maneuver and began a peaceful ride, flying the craft as a normal glider. He was back at the airport for a perfect three-point landing in 10 to 15 minutes.

When Melvill got off the plane he said, “It was like nothing I’ve seen before. You really do get the feeling that you’ve touched the face of God.”

He wore a good luck charm in the shape of a horseshoe on the left side of his spacesuit. He had given it to his future wife when she was still a teenager. She gives it back to him to wear for every flight.

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin of Apollo fame greeted him with “you have joined the club.” The FAA presented him with the first commercial astronaut wings.

SpaceShipOne is designed for sub-orbital flight that begins at 62-miles altitude. It holds three people, has a wingspan of 16.4-feet and is 28-feet long. The aspect ratio of the wings is 1.7. It utilizes elevons, which is a combination of ailerons and elevators, for control. The craft is less than ¼ the size of the Space Shuttle.

The craft uses its tail and wings to fly like an airplane during the ascent stage after horizontal launch from the mother ship and again during the gliding approaches and landing.

It cost $20 million dollars to build. Rutan claims that is about what it costs NASA to make a paper study. Investor and philanthropist billionaire Paul G. Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, is the major investor.

Samuel Langley had a government contract for $50,000 in addition to use of the resources of the Smithsonian and failed when his Great Aerodrome crashed twice on takeoff in 1903. The Wright brothers were successful a few days later using only $1,200 of their own money.

Rutan’s group will win $10 million if they can win the “X Prize.” To do that they must fly into space twice with the same craft within a two-week period carrying three people or equivalent.

There are 26 other ventures from seven countries that are also vying for the prize. One other team is reportedly close to attempting their first space flight.

The prize was established eight years ago for purpose of encouraging development of commercial space flight. A St. Louis group sponsors the prize. Erik Lindbergh, the grandson of Charles Lindbergh that flew from New York to Paris in 1927, is part of the group. SpaceShipOne’s flight is somewhat akin to Lindbergh’s pioneering flight that won the $25,000 Orteig prize.

The problems uncovered during the test program have been diagnosed and fixed. Rutan says they plan to fly again on September 29th followed by a second flight as early as October 4th.

One of the first commercial uses of SpaceShipOne will be for tourism. At first it will cost between $30,000-50,000 to experience the exciting ride and spectacular view. Melvill says it is a “mind-blowing experience.”

Rutan expects the cost to come down to around $12,000 with 5-6 passengers within about 15 years.

When the Wright brothers flew, there were few people who could imagine the impact that their flight would have on the 20th century. The commercial airplane industry and intercontinental flight seemed far-fetched. Even the brothers thought that governments would be their main customers because they were the only ones that could afford to buy their airplanes.

Rutan expects his efforts will spark the imagination of a new generation of explorers and new industry of privately funded manned spacecraft just as Orville and Wilbur opened the door to flight itself. The incentive of commerce will eventually lead to cheap access to space.

Up Date: Northrop Grumman buys SpaceShipOne Maker. A spokesman for Northrop Grumman said that Scaled will continue in its current operating model as a separate entity within Northrop Grumman and that Rutan and Scaled management will remain in place. The partner ship between Scaled and the Virgin Group, which seeks to begin  suborbital tourist flights in 2009, remains unchanged.

Kitty Hawk Flyer Almost Lost in Flood

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Others

The Kitty Hawk Flyer was in storage behind the bicycle shop when a horrendous flood enveloped Dayton including the Flyer, threatening its survival.

The hard rain began on Easter Sunday March 23, 1913. Most citizens were unconcerned even though Dayton had experienced flooding six times in its past because of its location at the confluence of the Miami, Stillwater and Mad Rivers.

The next day, March 24th, the rain became a deluge. The Miami River was rising rapidly at a rate of over 6-inches per hour. Milton Wright, 84, had a premonition that the rain was worse this time and could cause trouble. He wrote in his diary, “I apprehended a flood. Felt the danger of it.” His prescience would turn out to be right.

The next morning on Tuesday, the 25th, Orville and Katharine were late rising because they had just returned from a trip to Europe six days before. Unaware of the impending danger, they hurried off to keep an appointment leaving the Bishop home alone.

At 7 a.m. that morning an earthen dam collapsed upstream at Loramie Reservoir sending a wall of water towards Dayton. Factories blew warning whistles and church bells rang but most people didn’t know the reason for the noise and ignored it.

At 4 p.m. the levies protecting Dayton gave way to the roaring water. A wall of water 5-feet deep poured into Dayton. Observers say that more water poured into the city than over Niagara Falls. The water level climbed 12 to 14 feet in the downtown area.

Orville and Katharine were on high ground and safe, but they couldn’t return home. Electricity was out so there was no telephone service. They were greatly concerned about their father’s safety.

They were unaware at the time, but their next door neighbor rescued Milton by canoe and had taken him to safety at a house on Williams St. They had cause to be concerned because there was some eight feet of water at their home on Hawthorn St.

Fifteen square miles of the Dayton area now lay under 6 to 20 feet of water.

People scrambled to upper floors, rooftops and trees to escape the water. Some 15,000 people, nearly one-half of the city’s population had no shelter and were forced to endure rain and later sleet without shelter or drink. There was little food or drinking water. Swirling water, the consistency of pea soap, was contaminated from some 4,000 privies.

My father, then 12 years old, and my grandparents scrambled to their second floor.

A family at the corner of Herman and Taylor St. used a railing from a wooden bedstead as a battering ram to punch a hole through the 2nd floor ceiling into the attic. They then piled mattresses on a bed and placed a chair on top of that to climb into the attic. They then punched a hole in the roof to escape onto the roof.

All through the night the stranded people heard the firing of guns, shrieks and cries for help, some drowned, and buildings were tipping over. The floodwaters crested around midnight. The rain continued all night and it turned colder in the morning.

Orville posted signs asking for anyone who had news about Milton, to contact him. He and Katharine were relieved when they received word that he was safe.

Orville had new worries.

The terror of fire supplanted that of water. All over the city fires erupted from escaping gas. Some buildings blew up. The sky was filled with clouds of smoke. The entire business district was in danger of burning down. Orville could see buildings on fire hear his bicycle shop and believed it would all go up in flames.

The disassembled 1903 airplane was packed in crates in a shed behind the shop. Letters, diaries and their records of their glider trials, wind tunnel and propeller experiments were stored on the second floor of the bike shop.

On a shelf in a shed behind their house on Hawthorn St were stored the irreplaceable photograph negatives of their Kitty Hawk and Huffman Prairie flights, including the famous picture of the first flight.

Local government ceased to function. Into the breach stepped John H. Patterson, the president of the National Cash Register Company (NCR) and a friend of the Wrights. When he observed what was happening he converted the NCR, that was on higher ground and not flooded, to making flat bottom boats. The employees made some 275 boats at the rate of one every 15 minutes. Thousands of people were rescued by the boats from rooftops and windows.

The NCR buildings and a hastily built tent city on the surrounding ground were used to house and care for the refugees. Each person received a cot, pillow and blanket. The tents had wooden floors. They also received dry clothes, hot meals and medical attention.

Ohio Governor Cox sent National Guards Soldiers to Dayton and placed the troops under the command of Patterson who was given the rank of Colonel.

The NCR with 7,100 employees spent almost $2 million, 2/3rds of their company profit for the year, on the rescue. Patterson sought no reimbursement or tax deduction for the expenditure.

Orville wrote, “I do not suppose there has ever been a similar calamity where relief was so promptly afforded with so little waste. Dayton was very fortunate in having a man with the ability of Patterson to take this work in hand.”

The waters receded on March 30. It had been 5 days of hell and everywhere there was ruin, waste, destruction and mud. It was estimated that 371 people died and there was close to $1 million property damaged including 14,000 homes destroyed or damaged.

There was wreckage piled almost to the roofs of houses, animals were stranded on roof tops, overturned street cars, wrecked grand pianos, 1400 dead horses, waste lumber, asphalt rolled into huge bales like carpet, horrible filth and pungent smell. Men waded through mud above their knees.

The Northwest Tower of Steele High School where Katharine had been a teacher collapsed under the pressure of the water.

Orville and Katharine returned home to happily find that their home and the bike shop survived. The records had little damage. The glass plate negatives had some water damage but were not a total loss. The famous photograph of the first flight was slightly damaged on the lower left corner.

The shed behind the bike shop survived intact and the Flyer was partially protected by a layer of mud. Orville cleaned off the top of the crates and put them back in the shed.

Orville wrote, “My personal loss has been slight, somewhere between $3,000 and $5,000. Hundreds of families and merchants in the city lost practically everything they had. This is probably the greatest calamity that has ever happened to an American city, as insurance policies do not provide coverage for damage by flood.”

Milton returned home on April 4th after the house was cleaned. He recorded in his diary; “I walked home after dinner. Found Orville drying his bonds.”

The White Mansion on the Hill

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Others

The NCR Corporation returned the Wright mansion, which is located in Oakwood, Ohio to the Wright family after 58 years of ownership.

The Wrights moved into their beautiful white pillared new house in Oakwood on April 28, 1914. It was designed for all of them, including their father, to spend the rest of their lives in comfort. For Orville, in particular, it served as a refuge from the dissonance of the outside world.

The family had lived at 7 Hawthorne St. in Dayton for forty-two years, but the neighborhood was beginning to decay so they decided it was time to move.

Orville and Wilbur originally had their eye on moving to a small lot within the city of Dayton located at the corner of Salem Avenue and Harvard Boulevard. Katharine didn’t like the location. It was too close to the center of the city. She wanted a wooded lot on a hill. The brothers grumbled for a while but acquiesced to her wishes. A United Methodist Church stands at the location today.

They found just what she wanted in Oakwood, a city adjoining Dayton to the South. Oakwood contains many affluent homes because John H. Patterson, the founder and President of the NCR Corporation (formerly, National Cash Register Co.) encouraged his executives to live there.

They purchased 17 acres with woods and a hill February 1912, near the corner of Park Drive and Harmon Road and began working together with the architectural firm of Schenck & Williams to design a house that they would all like. Construction began in August with ground preparation. The house, which cost $50,000, was completed in 1914.

Orville and Katharine purchased new furniture for the new house, leaving much of the old furniture behind in the Hawthorne Street house. They spent four days in Grand Rapids, Michigan, buying household furnishings from Berkey and Gay Furniture Co.

It may have been Katharine’s dream, but Orville took over managing the project. He paid close attention to every detail of the construction and interior decorating. Some examples are presented below.

Orville didn’t like the shade of red on the mahogany interior doors. The painters couldn’t get it right to his satisfaction so he dismissed them. He experimented with different mixes in his laboratory in downtown Dayton until he got the color he wanted, then painted the doors himself.

Orville designed an unusual chimney for the living room based on the principle of a Pitot-Tube. It took some work to get it just as he wanted it.

He also designed his own private bathroom. Katharine and her father, Milton, shared theirs.

He designed and installed a special circular shower consisting of a complex system of pipes and showerheads that would spray soothing water over his bad back to ease the pain that plagued him since his near fatal airplane crash at Fort Myer in 1908.

He used a tarp that covered the 1903 Flyer at Kitty Hawk for his shower curtain. Beneath the bathroom floor, Orville installed protective shields to prevent any leaks from staining the ceiling below.

He used rainwater for hot and cold bath water because it was mineral free. He had it piped from the roof into a cistern. The water from this cistern was then pumped through a special filter to a second cistern. The filter removed sediment, color and odor.

Wilbur took little interest in the building project. Although he did once complain that too much space was being wasted on halls. The one thing he did want for himself was his own bedroom and bathroom. He got what he wanted.

Tragically, Wilbur died of Typhoid Fever in 1912 before construction began and never lived in the house.

They named the house Hawthorn Hill, after the name of their boyhood house 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.

The style of the mansion is Georgian- Colonial. They observed such a mansion on a trip to Virginia and decided that they wanted that style for their own house.

Two identical entrances consisting of pillared facades were constructed, one for Orville and one for Wilbur. Orville’s entrance was on the south side and faced a long circular driveway that wound up the hill to the entrance. Wilbur’s, on the north side, faced a downward sloping lawn.

Inside the house, a wide and elegant reception hall joined the two entrances.

The morning sun shown into Wilbur’s room window.

The windows in the house swing open to create cross-ventilation to keep the house cool even on warm days.

Bishop Wright lived in the home until his death in 1917.

My wife and I have been in the mansion several times and it is a comfortable house. The study was his favorite room and it has been left exactly like it was at the time of his death. Except for Orville’s study and his bedroom, the house has been updated and redecorated. His favorite overstuffed easy chair that he had modified to ease his discomfort is still there. He drilled a vertical hole in each arm of the chair for placement of a homemade book-holder that could be moved from side to side.

His reading glasses are still on his stand next to the chair. He removed one of the side pieces so that he could remove the glasses easily. Efficiency was an important consideration for Orville.

He tinkered with everything in the house. He installed a commercial compressed air vacuum system that was contained within the walls similar to those used in some modern houses today. Carrie Kayler, their housekeeper, who went to work for the family when she was 14 years old, wouldn’t use it so Orville cleaned the floors himself.

He also designed the basic plumbing, heating and electrical system. The controls for the heating system were in his bedroom. Orville designed special wiring that ran through a hole in the floor in the bedroom, then through the living room floor to the furnace in the basement. He was the only one who knew how to operate the controls.

A friend of mine relates the story of his boss at NCR being dispatched to deliver a package to Orville at his home. Orville answered the door with his sleeves rolled up and dirty hands. He invited him in and proceeded to the kitchen where he had dismantled the refrigerator. The parts were scattered on the floor.

The mansion was used for family weddings. Lorin’s daughters, Ivonette and Leontine were both married there.

The mansion was also was host to many distinguished visitors. They included Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, General Hap Arnold, Charles Lindbergh, General Billy Mitchell, Admiral Richard Byrd, Henry Ford, Carl Sandburg, Charles Kettering, John H. Patterson and Edward Deeds.

When Orville died in 1948, there were a number of proposals concerning the future of the mansion. One was for the Federal Government to buy it. A proposal was submitted to Congress, but nothing came of it because Congress didn’t want to spend any more money on national memorials.

Another proposal was for the City of Oakwood to buy it. The Oakwood City Council scotched the proposal because they would have to propose a bond issue to raise the money.

The Wright family didn’t have the money to buy it either.

Finally, the co-executor of the estate, Harold Miller, who was the husband of Lorin’s daughter Ivonette, listed the house with a real-estate agent.

The first day that the “for sale” signs went up in the lawn. The NCR came forward and purchased the house for $75,000. Edward Deeds, a long time friend of Orville’s and a top executive with NCR, was instrumental in the NCR purchase. NCR used the house for important corporate visitors. It is not open to the public because the neighbors don’t want the commotion and traffic and there is insufficient parking space.

It is fortunate that the NCR purchased the house because it has been kept in pristine condition. In 1991 it was listed on the National register of Historic Places and its appraised value today is $1,096,820. The market price is believed to be much higher.

One of the first moves by the NCR was to install a modern plumbing and heating system to replace the complex system that had resulted from years of Orville’s tinkering. Orville did all of the plumbing work himself; he never allowed a plumber to do any work in Hawthorn Hill.

The return of the house to the Wright family by the NCR after 58 years of ownership occurred on August 18, 2006. The date is significant because it comes on the 135th anniversary of Orville’s birthday that occurred on the 19th.

NCR’s president and chief executive Bill Nutti handed the keys to the house to Amanda Wright Lane, great-grand niece of Wilbur and Orville and Stephen Wright, great-grandnephew. They represented the Wright Family Foundation.

The Wright Family Foundation is a nonprofit fund established through the Dayton Foundation by the late “Wick” Wright, the Wright brothers’ grandnephew. Amanda and Stephen are the foundation’s trustees.

The foundation will assume the $75,000 annual cost of operating and maintaining the property.

Hawthorn Hill is not a part of the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Park Service and for the immediate future the policy of not opening the home for public tours will continue. This policy may change later on.

The White Mansion on the Hill

The NCR Corporation returned the Wright mansion, which is located in Oakwood, Ohio to the Wright family after 58 years of ownership.

The Wrights moved into their beautiful white pillared new house in Oakwood on April 28, 1914. It was designed for all of them, including their father, to spend the rest of their lives in comfort. For Orville, in particular, it served as a refuge from the dissonance of the outside world.

The family had lived at 7 Hawthorne St. in Dayton for forty-two years, but the neighborhood was beginning to decay so they decided it was time to move.

Orville and Wilbur originally had their eye on moving to a small lot within the city of Dayton located at the corner of Salem Avenue and Harvard Boulevard. Katharine didn’t like the location. It was too close to the center of the city. She wanted a wooded lot on a hill. The brothers grumbled for a while but acquiesced to her wishes. A United Methodist Church stands at the location today.

They found just what she wanted in Oakwood, a city adjoining Dayton to the South. Oakwood contains many affluent homes because John H. Patterson, the founder and President of the NCR Corporation (formerly, National Cash Register Co.) encouraged his executives to live there.

They purchased 17 acres with woods and a hill February 1912, near the corner of Park Drive and Harmon Road and began working together with the architectural firm of Schenck & Williams to design a house that they would all like. Construction began in August with ground preparation. The house, which cost $50,000, was completed in 1914.

Orville and Katharine purchased new furniture for the new house, leaving much of the old furniture behind in the Hawthorne Street house. They spent four days in Grand Rapids, Michigan, buying household furnishings from Berkey and Gay Furniture Co.

It may have been Katharine’s dream, but Orville took over managing the project. He paid close attention to every detail of the construction and interior decorating. Some examples are presented below.

Orville didn’t like the shade of red on the mahogany interior doors. The painters couldn’t get it right to his satisfaction so he dismissed them. He experimented with different mixes in his laboratory in downtown Dayton until he got the color he wanted, then painted the doors himself.

Orville designed an unusual chimney for the living room based on the principle of a Pitot-Tube. It took some work to get it just as he wanted it.

He also designed his own private bathroom. Katharine and her father, Milton, shared theirs.

He designed and installed a special circular shower consisting of a complex system of pipes and showerheads that would spray soothing water over his bad back to ease the pain that plagued him since his near fatal airplane crash at Fort Myer in 1908.

He used a tarp that covered the 1903 Flyer at Kitty Hawk for his shower curtain. Beneath the bathroom floor, Orville installed protective shields to prevent any leaks from staining the ceiling below.

He used rainwater for hot and cold bath water because it was mineral free. He had it piped from the roof into a cistern. The water from this cistern was then pumped through a special filter to a second cistern. The filter removed sediment, color and odor.

Wilbur took little interest in the building project. Although he did once complain that too much space was being wasted on halls. The one thing he did want for himself was his own bedroom and bathroom. He got what he wanted.

Tragically, Wilbur died of Typhoid Fever in 1912 before construction began and never lived in the house.

They named the house Hawthorn Hill, after the name of their boyhood house 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.

The style of the mansion is Georgian- Colonial. They observed such a mansion on a trip to Virginia and decided that they wanted that style for their own house.

Two identical entrances consisting of pillared facades were constructed, one for Orville and one for Wilbur. Orville’s entrance was on the south side and faced a long circular driveway that wound up the hill to the entrance. Wilbur’s, on the north side, faced a downward sloping lawn.

Inside the house, a wide and elegant reception hall joined the two entrances.

The morning sun shown into Wilbur’s room window.

The windows in the house swing open to create cross-ventilation to keep the house cool even on warm days.

Bishop Wright lived in the home until his death in 1917.

My wife and I have been in the mansion several times and it is a comfortable house. The study was his favorite room and it has been left exactly like it was at the time of his death. Except for Orville’s study and his bedroom, the house has been updated and redecorated. His favorite overstuffed easy chair that he had modified to ease his discomfort is still there. He drilled a vertical hole in each arm of the chair for placement of a homemade book-holder that could be moved from side to side.

His reading glasses are still on his stand next to the chair. He removed one of the side pieces so that he could remove the glasses easily. Efficiency was an important consideration for Orville.

He tinkered with everything in the house. He installed a commercial compressed air vacuum system that was contained within the walls similar to those used in some modern houses today. Carrie Kayler, their housekeeper, who went to work for the family when she was 14 years old, wouldn’t use it so Orville cleaned the floors himself.

He also designed the basic plumbing, heating and electrical system. The controls for the heating system were in his bedroom. Orville designed special wiring that ran through a hole in the floor in the bedroom, then through the living room floor to the furnace in the basement. He was the only one who knew how to operate the controls.

A friend of mine relates the story of his boss at NCR being dispatched to deliver a package to Orville at his home. Orville answered the door with his sleeves rolled up and dirty hands. He invited him in and proceeded to the kitchen where he had dismantled the refrigerator. The parts were scattered on the floor.

The mansion was used for family weddings. Lorin’s daughters, Ivonette and Leontine were both married there.

The mansion was also was host to many distinguished visitors. They included Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, General Hap Arnold, Charles Lindbergh, General Billy Mitchell, Admiral Richard Byrd, Henry Ford, Carl Sandburg, Charles Kettering, John H. Patterson and Edward Deeds.

When Orville died in 1948, there were a number of proposals concerning the future of the mansion. One was for the Federal Government to buy it. A proposal was submitted to Congress, but nothing came of it because Congress didn’t want to spend any more money on national memorials.

Another proposal was for the City of Oakwood to buy it. The Oakwood City Council scotched the proposal because they would have to propose a bond issue to raise the money.

The Wright family didn’t have the money to buy it either.

Finally, the co-executor of the estate, Harold Miller, who was the husband of Lorin’s daughter Ivonette, listed the house with a real-estate agent.

The first day that the “for sale” signs went up in the lawn. The NCR came forward and purchased the house for $75,000. Edward Deeds, a long time friend of Orville’s and a top executive with NCR, was instrumental in the NCR purchase. NCR used the house for important corporate visitors. It is not open to the public because the neighbors don’t want the commotion and traffic and there is insufficient parking space.

It is fortunate that the NCR purchased the house because it has been kept in pristine condition. In 1991 it was listed on the National register of Historic Places and its appraised value today is $1,096,820. The market price is believed to be much higher.

Hall of Fame Honors Foster and Ride

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Others

The National Aviation Hall of Fame located in Dayton, Ohio enshrined five legends of Flight in their class of 2007 on July 21, 2007. They are Walter Boyne, Steve Fossett, Evelyn Johnson, Sally Ride and Frederick Smith. They join 190 legends already honored in the hall of fame. Orville and Wilbur Wright were the first to be enshrined.

Here is a brief description of each honoree:

Walter J. Boyne

Boyne, 77, joined the Air Force in 1951. He flew bombers, B-50 and B-41 in combat, later was a Nuclear Test pilot flying the B-47 and B-52. After serving in Vietnam, he retired and in 1974 joined the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. He eventually became director.

He has written more than 500 articles, 28 nonfiction books and four novels, all focusing on aviation. Several have appeared on the New York Bestseller list.

Steve Fossett

Fossett, 63, is a record setting daredevil who holds 116 records in five different sports. He has aviation records in jet and piston powered aircraft, gliders, dirigibles and balloons. He was the first to complete a solo balloon trip around the globe. Three years later he was the first person to fly a plane, the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer, solo around the world without refueling.

In February 2006 he flew the longest distance, non-stop aircraft flight in the GlobalFlyer. In August 2006, Foster and co-pilot, Einar Enevoldson, set a world glider altitude record of 50,671 feet.

Evelyn Bryan Johnson

Johnson, 97, took flying lessons in 1944. Three years later she began giving flying lessons. She has trained some 60,000 pilots giving her the record for giving more Federal aviation Administration exams than any other living pilot.

She is the 20th woman in the U. S. to earn a helicopter pilot’s license.

She has been inducted into the Flight Instructor’s Hall of Fame, Women in Aviation’s International Pioneer Hall of Fame and both the Tennessee and Kentucky Hall’s of Fame.

Sally K. Ride

Ride, 56, was the first U. S. woman in space when she flew aboard the space shuttle Challenger in 1983. She returned to space aboard the Challenger in 1984. She was scheduled for a third mission to space but it was cancelled by the Challenger accident in January 1986. She served on the board that investigated the Challenger accident.

Ride earned a Ph.D. in physics from Stanford in 1978. Dr. Ride is the author of five books, President and CEO of Sally Ride science, and an advocate for improving and emphasizing science education for young girls.

Frederick W. Smith

Smith, 62, is CEO and Chairman of FedEx Corporation. He began flying at age 15, working as a crop duster. While attending Yale University he wrote a term paper outlining his concept for a company guaranteeing delivery of time-sensitive material overnight.

After graduation he joined the marines and served two tours in Vietnam. He flew more than 200 ground support missions, earning a Silver Star, Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts.

In 1971 at the age of 27 he formed Federal Express based on his college term paper. It is today a $32 billion, 280,000-employee business with service in more than 220 countries and territories.

The National Aviation Hall of Fame is a non-profit organization that relies solely on membership, donations, grants, and sponsorships. It was founded in 1962 and later established by Congress.

References: Heroes and Legends, Winter/Spring 2007; Dayton Daily News, July 23, 2007.