Wright Brothers – Honoring the Wright Brothers

Articles relating to the honoring of the Wright Brothers.

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

The newspapers on September 14, 1908 announced: “Wright Brothers to get $1,000 Medals.”

The article went on to say that “in formal recognition of their recent remarkable achievements in aeronautics, the Aero Club of America, the representative organization of the United States, will hold a banquet in New York in honor of Wilbur and Orville Wright, the two Americans whose aeroplane has been the wonder and admiration of two continents.”

“This was decided at a meeting of the club held yesterday when active plans were begun. On that night the organization, whose membership includes many millionaires, will present both brothers with a handsome medal, costing $1,000.”

“This is intended to denote the celebration of America’s gift of the aeroplane to the world by the Wrights, who are members of the club.”

“The drawings of the medals are now on exhibition in the club rooms. Half a dozen leading silversmiths have entered a competition, the choice of design to be made by the members of a special committee.”

“The banquet will not be held for several weeks. Orville Wright is recovering in Dayton, Ohio from injuries sustained in the government test in Washington, but the officials of the club expect he will be able to attend. Wilbur Wright is in France and he has sent assurances that he will come to New York if possible.”

“The directors of the Aero Club have appointed a committee to raise subscriptions and among the prominent members to contribute are John Jacob Astor, Chester R. Flint, Jefferson Seligman, Frank A. Munsey, Samuel H. Valentine, Russell A. Alger and J. C. McCoy.”

Members of the Auto Club of America founded the Aero Club in New York. Alexander Graham Bell was its most famous member. Most members were millionaire sportsman. Wilbur and Orville joined the club in 1906.

The award ceremony did not take place as planned. It was delayed until June 1909 because Wilbur was busy flying in Europe and Orville was conducting qualification flights for the Army at Ft. Myer.

When the officials found out that the Wrights were returning to New York from Europe in May 1909, they wanted to stage a major homecoming celebration that would include in addition to the Aero Club, the U.S. Congress and the Smithsonian Institution. Congressman Herbert Parsons invited President Taft to present the medals.

When Governor Cox of Ohio heard about the plans he protested to the planners that Dayton had already planned a major celebration in Dayton during June.

President Taft was asked to decide the issue. Taft deferred to the Wrights. The Wrights were still at sea on their way home. They told the parties involved that they had much work to do getting ready for the upcoming Army trials and would prefer to celebrate in Dayton.

President Taft said he was unable to attend the celebration in Dayton and invited the Wrights to make a short trip to Washington for award of the gold medals in the White House. The Wrights accepted the invitation.

Dayton picked June 17-18 for their grand celebration. The Wrights reluctantly agreed to participate although they would have preferred to spend the time working on their airplane

President Taft agreed to present the Aero Club medals in Washington at the White House during the second week of June.

Wilbur, Orville and Katharine arrived by train in Washington on the morning of the June 10 and were welcomed by Holland Forbes, president of the Aero Club. He escorted them to a suite of rooms at the Willard Hotel. Many people thought Forbes was Wilbur because Wilbur had been in France and was less familiar than Orville who had been in Washington in connection with the Army trials.

The next stop for Wilbur and Orville was the War Department where they met with the man who would make the decision in the near future whether the Wright Flyer would meet the Army’s specifications, Brigadier General James Allen, Chief Signal Officer of the U.S. Army. The Wrights had interrupted working on the airplane for the trip to Washington.

Katharine, during the time her brothers were at the War Department, was attending a reception at the home of Mrs. C. J. Bell, wife of the treasurer of the Aero Club of Washington.

From there the Wrights and their escorts walked through downtown Washington to the Cosmos club for lunch. The walk must have been difficult for Orville who had just recently discarded his cane, which he was using while he recovered from the serious injuries he had as a result of the crash he had at Ft. Myer the previous year. The accident left him with one leg shorter than the other and back pains which would bother him the rest of his life.

The Cosmos Club was an all-male club whose membership consisted of important members of society in Washington. Orville stayed there the previous year while flying at Ft. Myer. (I have had lunch there several times myself as a guest.)

The club suspended their all-male rule for the occasion so that Katharine and the other ladies could be present.

Alex Graham Bell and the leaders of congress were among the 159 guests in attendance.

After lunch, the entire party walked across Lafayette Square to the White House where they joined other invited quests in the East Room. Promptly at 2:40, the great double doors to the central hallway were opened and Holland Forbes and Representative Herbert Parsons escorted Wilbur, Orville and Katharine into the East Room.

Forbes made a few remarks on the behalf of Aero Club and then turned the proceedings over to President Taft. The President prefaced his presentation of the gold medals with a humorous comment. He assured the audience that, while his own girth would keep him on the ground, he shared the universal interest in flight. He followed that with saying that the work of Wright brothers was something in which all Americans could take pride.

He continued, “You made this discovery by a course that we of America feel is distinctly American, by keeping your nose right at the job until you had accomplished what you had determined to do.”

The Wrights quickly returned to Dayton to get their new Flyer ready for the Army speed trial. They did get a one-month extension to July 28 from General Allen while they were in Washington. Later, it was extended again for three days during the trials because of high winds.

Back in Dayton, they were committed to another grand celebration, June 17-18, which would further take away from their work on the Flyer. They were not pleased with another delay but there wasn’t much they could do about it except smile and participate.

Returning to Ft. Myer, Orville successfully completed the speed test with an average speed of 42.6-mph over a ten-mile route between Alexandria and Ft. Myer. President Taft was present for this flight and one other.

It would be interesting to know what Wilbur and Orville really thought about President Taft, who was a fellow native of Ohio. He certainly wasn’t of much help to them during the period that the Wrights were trying to interest the War Department in their airplane while Taft was Secretary of War.

In 1905 the Wrights wrote to Taft through their local congressman. Taft’s office routinely forwarded the letter to the U.S. Army Board of Ordnance and Fortification for comment. The Board treated the Wrights’ letter as if it came from cranks. Their reply was negative and insulting. Orville and Wilbur were very upset because it demonstrated a lack of respect.

In 1906 the Wrights tried again, writing directly to Taft. Again the answer was negative.

In early 1907 new hope appeared. Cortland Field, the president of the Aero Club was the brother-in-law of Congressman Herbert Parsons. Field told Parsons about the problems that the Wrights were having with the U.S. government. Parsons in turn wrote to the Wrights in April asking them to send copies of the correspondence that they had received from the Board of Ordnance and Fortification.

Parsons, after reading what the Wrights sent him, was appalled and decided to bring the issue to the attention of President Theodore Roosevelt. The president in turn forwarded the package Parsons sent him to Secretary of War Taft with a note to have the claims investigated. Taft sent the Wright package along with the notes from Parsons and Roosevelt, recommending a favorable response.

The secretary of the board wrote the Wrights in May requesting additional information and a specific proposal. The Board added they wanted assurance of exclusive rights to the invention. The Wrights, who were negotiating with other potential buyers in Europe, responded that was no longer possible. The Wrights heard nothing more from the Board until October.

Then an event occurred that would finally start the ball rolling to a successful conclusion. The event was the assignment of Lt. Frank Lahm to take command of a portion of the aeronautical section of the U.S. Army Signal Corps.

Lt. Lahm wrote a letter to General James Allen, Chief Signal Officer and the highest member of the Army Board. The letter said: “I have to inform you that I have just had an interview with Mr. Orville Wright of Dayton Ohio, in regard to the purchase of the aeroplane invented and successfully operated by himself and his brother, Mr. Wilbur Wright. It seems unfortunate that this American invention, which unquestionably has considerable military value, should not first be acquired by the United States Army.”

It was just a matter of time. On February 10, the Wright brothers received notice from Allen of the acceptance of their bid on a Flyer for the War Department.

The Wrights were involved in one other episode with Taft in which Taft was not helpful. This one involved a controversy with the Smithsonian Institution in which the Smithsonian claimed that the Langley Aerodrome, which crashed twice before the Wrights successful first flight, was capable of flight and would have flown if it hadn’t experienced launching problems beyond Langley’s control.

The Smithsonian was interested in redeeming Samuel Langley’s reputation because he was a former secretary of the Smithsonian. Charles Walcott, the current secretary, sponsored Glenn Curtiss to rebuild and fly the original Aerodrome and thereby prove the claim that the Aerodrome could have flown.

Curtiss had an interest in invalidating the Wrights’ patent because he was building airplanes that were covered by the patent. Curtiss claims he did get the pontoons of the Aerodrome just above the surface of Lake Keuka in 1914. The Aerodrome however was not in its original condition. Curtiss had made significant modifications to the machine.

After the Curtiss flight, Walcott ordered the Aerodrome returned to it original condition and then displayed in the Smithsonian with a sign that read, “it was the first man carrying aeroplane in the history of the world capable of sustained free flight.”

Orville appealed to now Chief Justice William Howard Taft, who was also chancellor of the Smithsonian to make an impartial investigation of the Aerodrome affair.

Orville wrote, ” I do not think it will take you five minutes to make up your mind whether the changes were made and whether they were of importance.”

Taft replied that his duties as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court left him no time to decide questions that should be decided by the secretary of the Smithsonian, not the chancellor.

This complicity between Curtiss and the Smithsonian drove Orville to send the 1903 Flyer to the London Science Museum in January 1928. The Flyer didn’t return to the United States until 20 years later after the Smithsonian admitted in one of its technical publications that significant modifications had been made to the Aerodrome.

In contrast to Taft, the Aero Club remained a solid supporter of the Wrights. One of their actions was to announce on April 21, 1910 that the Aero Club had agreed to sanction air meets only after prior arrangements had been made by the Wright brothers. This was a bold action because many Wright competitors tried to avoid paying royalties to the Wrights and charged the Wrights with discouraging innovation by enforcing the patent they were awarded in 1906.

An unfortunate event occurred at the first large Aero Club American Exposition illustrating the history, status and future prospects of the flying machine. The Wrights provided for display a crankshaft and flywheel from the 1903 Flyer. Someone stole them and they have not reappeared to this day.

In 1978 there was a grand celebration of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Wright brothers first flight. One of the best-published tributes appeared in the Airline Pilot magazine’s issue of December 1978. The following is what they wrote:

“The Wright Brothers: Proponents of Free Enterprise.

In this issue, a special 75th anniversary tribute to the Wright brothers from all airline pilots, we have tried to show what manner of men they were and record some of the little-known facts about their invention and the significance of their accomplishment. So much is known about them, yet so little.

They were private people who shunned publicity for publicity’s sake. The were determined to stand up for their rights and did, in spite of the dogged efforts of those who would defraud them or detract from the enormity of their achievement.

It is with much awe that we realize that these two quiet geniuses were the ones who made the technological breakthrough that gave the world a whole new mode of transportation and an entire industry that employs thousands of people around the world.

And they did it without the benefit of a completed high school education, financial backing or the precedent of other technology. They were mere bicycle mechanics who had the same dream many others had before them — that man could fly in controllable heavier-than-air machines and do it safely.

The difference was that they realized their dream through scientific inquiry, by gathering their own facts and by applying their self-won knowledge to kites, then gliders and then aeroplanes. They purchased all their materials with their own funds and what they could not buy, they scrounged. And what was not available in any form, they fashioned with their own hands and homemade tools. They continually improvised as they patiently proceeded, fully convinced that it was within their power to succeed even though the realization of the dream had eluded others for centuries.

When success did come, they found that they had to turn from the engineering/test phase to the marketing phase of their new enterprise. They found that selling their new product was difficult, that it had to become known to the public before it would be in demand. Ironically, they became better known overseas than in their own country until they proved the worth of their product by personal demonstration.

Before Wilbur died, the brothers became aircraft manufacturers and thus entrepreneurs in the full sense of the word. They managed a profitable enterprise and assumed the economic risks of a new and untried business. After Wilbur’s death, Orville continued, although with a low profile and seemingly without the inventive spark that their twin genius had given them.

These two Americans, products of a free society, in defiance of the failures of others, were able to solve the riddle of controlled, heavier-than-air flight without the benefit of government subsidy or official encouragement. Exercising their right to think independently and proceed into the technological unknown with confidence, they epitomized the American system at its finest.

They sought neither fame nor fortune yet attained both. They did not envision great fleets of aircraft traversing the globe or new industries and professions rising from the sands of Kitty Hawk, yet both have come about.

All of us owe the Wright brothers a debt we cannot hope to repay. We can only memorialize the men and their genius as we have tried to do in these pages. We know they would understand.”