Where Are the Wrights’ Factories?

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Dayton Celebration Events

In November 1909 the Wrights formed the Wright Company to manufacture their airplanes. They initially rented factory space in February 1910 while they built their own factory in a cornfield north of Dayton. It took about ten months to build their first building. Their new factory was used to build Wright airplanes until 1915, at which time Orville sold the company.

My friend Ed and I, while attending “Inventing Flight” in Dayton during the month of July, decided to find these two factory locations and determine what has happened to them.

We found the location of the rented building at the intersection of Miami Chapel Avenue and Wisconsin Boulevard in west Dayton. That was the good news. The bad news was that the building had been razed. In fact there were no buildings at that corner, not even a marker to serve as a tribute to what had once occurred there. The area is rundown, which may explain why.

The site can be reached from the Wright bicycle shop/residence location by following South Broadway St. approximately two miles south from West Third St.

The rented building at the time belonged to the Speedwell Motor Car Company. It was a brick building with a distinctive sawtooth roof. (Here are two views of the factory)

Speedwell was a prosperous growing company making automobiles until the great Dayton flood of 1913. The plant was flooded and they could not recover from the loss of equipment and inventory.

The site is significant in airplane history because the first mass produced airplane was manufactured here. The airplane was the Wright Model B.

This was the first model of airplane that the Wrights built that didn’t place the elevator in the front. It was a two-seat design with dual controls and utilized a wheel-and-skid design. It took three days to assemble. The engine was built at the Wright Bicycle Shop and transported to Speedwell building.

The dual controls were used at Huffman field for pilot training. The student pilots attending the Wright School of Aviation purchased many of the airplanes. The Model B airplanes were built in the 1910 and 1911 time period.

The Wright Model R airplane was also built at this location. The Model R was designed for racing and altitude competition. The Wright Exhibition Team based at Huffman Prairie set four world altitude records with this machine.

In November 1910 they moved to their new factory upon the completion of building 1. A second building was added a year later.

We found the buildings several miles north of the bicycle shop on West Third Street. The buildings now belong to General Motors Delphi.

The one-story buildings have a distinctive curved roofline similar to airplane hangers. The Wrights built two buildings. Three similar additional buildings were added later after the Wright Company went out of business.

The buildings are painted a bright white and can be easily seen just inside the entrance gate. We drove up to the guardhouse at the gate and confirmed from the guard that the buildings were indeed the original Wright factory buildings.

I asked the guard if I could take some pictures but was told no! I asked if he would check with his boss. He did, with the same answer.

We came back on Sunday and found no one at the gate. I took a number of pictures through the chainlink fence..

The first airplanes manufactured at the new factory were the Model EX, Model C and Model D. The rest of their models followed. They included the models CH, E, F, G, H, HS, K, and L along with their instruments and engines.

The Model L was the last airplane manufactured by the Wright Co. It was a biwing type with a fuselage and was powered with a single propeller in front of the airplane (tractor type).

Upon completion of building 2, the factory had the capacity to produce four airplanes per month, a capacity greater than that of any other airplane factory in the world at that time.

Plaques commemorating the factories exist somewhere for these buildings and the earlier rented factory. Aviation Trail, Inc. presented them to General Motors in 1983.

It is unfortunate that General Motors during the Inventing Flight celebration did not make available to the public these historic factory sites. Building 1 is located just inside the entrance gate and contains the office that Orville Wright once used. This is hallowed ground and desires better treatment.

Great News!

Amanda Wright, great-grandniece of Orville and Wilbur, was instrumental in getting included in a new parks bill, the Hawthorn Hill Home of the Wrights and the Wright factory buildings.

President Obama signed the bill on March 30, 2009.

References:

The Wright Co. Factory Boundary Assessment and Environmental Assessment. Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park, Dayton, Ohio. The National Park Service. January 2006.

Dayton Daily News, March 31, 2009.

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