Wright Activities Before and After 1903

The Model C was the standard production airplane for the Wright Co. in 1913. The Army originally purchased six Wright Model Cs and five of these airplanes had crashed killing six men. Major Samuel Reber, the officer in charge of Army aviation called for an investigation and the resulting conclusions were that the crashes were caused by design error, not pilot error.

The 1912 Model C was the successor to the popular Model B and was delivered to the Army in 1912. It replaced the prominent triangular blinkers of the Model B with vertical vanes attached to the forward end of the skids.

It employed a more powerful engine to meet the Army specifications; that the machine climb at the rate of 200 feet per second, have a fuel supply sufficient for a 4-hour flight and carry a weight of 450 pounds, including pilot and passenger. It also had a simplified control system that was difficult to learn for new pilots.

In order to help understand the problems with the Model C, I will digress a bit to provide some background.

After Wilbur’s death, Orville took over as president of the company. It was a job he didn’t want but he really didn’t have a choice. He was not a good president. His vision for the company was clouded by an obsessive desire to protect their patent rights that were under attack by Glen Curtiss. Orville and the rest of the family blamed the stress that Wilbur was under while defending the patent as a contributing factor in his death.

Even before Wilbur’s death, the Wright airplanes were technologically beginning to fall behind the competition. The Model C was such a machine. The standard model was slow and unstable and used a twin-lever control system that was confusing to operate.

The problem with the Army began on June 11, 1912. U.S. Army Lt. Leighton Hagelhurst and Wright co-pilot Arthur Welsh were killed in a Model C when they crashed at College Park, Md. Then on September 4, 1913, Lt. Moss Love was killed in a Model C at the Army’s new North Island training facility at San Diego, California.

Two months later, on November 14, Lt. Perry Rich crashed into Manila Bay, Philippines, and died. Tens days later, student pilot Lt. Hugh Kelly and chief instructor Eric Ellington were killed in a second crash at North Island.

The death of Ellington set off alarm bells in Dayton. Ellington had the reputation as one of the best pilots in the Army. He had been corresponding with Grover Loening, the Wright Company’s factory manager about problems with the Model C machine. Ellington told Loening that the machine was tail heavy and difficult to control.

Orville had hired Loening as factory manager after he had fired the former factory manager, Frank Russell, when he took over as president. Loening was a 1910 engineering graduate of Columbia. Orville knew him because Wilbur had met him the year before in New York City.

Loening was now convinced that there was a fundamental design defect in the Model C Machine. Although Orville thought highly of Loening, he emphatically disagreed with his conclusion.

Orville maintained that the problem was pilot error. The Model C had a powerful new engine and the pilots were not accustomed to it. He suspected that most of the crashes were a result of stalls caused by the pilots misjudging their angle of attack.

Orville intended to solve the perceived problem in two ways. One, he developed an angle-of-incidence indicator that detected small changes in the angle of attack that allowed the pilot to know when his climb or dive was too steep.

The more powerful engine was to be used for climbing only. If the engine was flown at full power on level flight, the angle of attack becomes critical and should be kept between 5 and 10 degrees in order to maintain the center of pressure on the wing at the proper position. Orville predicted that 90% of the accidents caused by stalling would be eliminated if they paid attention to the new indicator.

Secondly, he developed an automatic pilot that he had been working on since 1905. He received a patent for this device in October 1913 and was awarded the Collier Trophy for the device on February 5, 1914. In a performance at Huffman Prairie in December he wowed members of the Aero Club of America, when he took-off and flew seven circles of the field with his hands held over his head.

Unfortunately for Orville’s invention, Lawrence Sperry soon after adapted a balancing device to airplanes that his father had invented for counteracting the roll and pitch of a ship. The Sperry device performed the same function as Orville’s mechanical device but with gyroscopes. The Sperry device became the standard for future use.

Then it happened again. On February 9, 1914, another pilot, Lt. Henry Post died in a crash at North Island. Six men had now been killed in crashes of the Model C. The number constituted one half of all Army pilots killed in air crashes. This is what instigated the Major Reder’s call for a board of investigation. The board concluded after their investigation, that the machine’s elevator was too weak and condemned the Model C as “dynamically unsuited for flying.”

Orville disagreed with the conclusion but cooperated with the investigation. He sent several of his employees, including Oscar Brindley his leading instructor at Huffman Field, to conduct the investigation at North Field.

Brindley, in his initial report, found that aircraft maintenance was a major problem. Major Reder thereupon advertised for an engineer to oversee the airworthiness of airplanes in the Army inventory and to organize a small research and development unit.

Loening applied for the job and was hired. His first action was to declare all the Wright and Curtiss airplanes unsafe to fly. He blamed part of the problem on the pusher type (propellers in back) design. He believed that the pusher type airplanes were prone to stall and when they crashed the engine too often fell and crushed the pilot. Curtiss Machines were having as many problems if not more as the Wright machines.

Loening wrote to Orville several times, but Orville seldom answered his letters. As a result, Loening believed that Orville never forgave him for outlawing the Wright airplanes.

In the meantime Orville was fighting Glen Curtiss in the continuing patent lawsuit and also working on a plan to sell the Wright Company. The latter task he successfully accomplished on October 15, 1915.

The reorganized Wright Co. developed two new airplanes to replace the Wright Model C, the Wright Models K and L. The Model K was built for the Navy and the Model L was a light scout airplane. Both were of a completely new design, placing the propellers in the front (tractor type) and used ailerons instead of wingwarping for the first time.

The company was losing money and merged with the Glenn L. Martin Co. and the Simplex Automobile Co. in 1916 to form the Wright-Martin Co. The new company prospered as an aircraft engine builder.

Glenn Curtiss developed a tractor type machine of his own in 1944 designated the Model J. A later version became the popular JN-4D (Jenny) of World War I.

The Wright-Curtiss patent dispute wasn’t settled until 1917 when the federal government stepped in to settle it during World War II.

The Wright Brothers have been often criticized for their uncompromising approach to many disagreements and business dealings after their first flight in 1903. Their approach, the close bond between the brothers, their secrecy with regard to their experiments and their mistrust of outsiders were extensions of their father’s philosophy that a tightly unified family was the best defense against the pressures of an essentially wicked world which was not to be trusted.

Milton Wright, the father of Wilbur and Orville, was a bishop in the United Brethren Church. He was a man of strong fundamental Christian values and an iron will to follow them. Born in a log cabin in Rush County, Indiana in 1828 in a religious home, he knew from a young age that the church would be his career.

At the age of eighteen an itinerant preacher introduced him to the United Brethren Church. He experienced a religious conversion and felt salvation. The church doctrine emphasized the importance of a moral life, temperance and abolition of slavery.

The grand vision of the church was to enable the reign of God in the New World and for that to occur, Christian reformers must first sweep away the works of Satan. God was on one side and evil was on the other. The salvation of one’s self and of his fellows demands a struggle. The church was a protestant sect that was popular in the rural areas of the Midwest in the 1890s with a peak membership of some 200,000 members.

Milton preached his first sermon on his twenty-second birthday in 1850. He was earning his living on the family farm and supplementing his income by teaching in local schools. IN 1850 he entered Hartsville College, a small Indiana school run by the United Brethren Church, and was ordained a minister in 1856. He previously also became certified in 1852 to teach penmanship, grammar, reading, writing, arithmetic and geography.

He never graduated from college but later in life he was awarded a honorary degree of divinity by Western College another Brethren college.

He met his wife, Susan Koener, while at Hartsville and they were married in 1859. She believed in his religious calling and devoted her life to supporting him and the family.

He inculcated in his children strength of character, firmness of purpose and self-confidence in their pursuits. He taught them that with hard work they could accomplish anything.

Church business required Milton to be a frequent traveler. Although often not physically at home, he was a strong influence on his children. His admonition to the children was that the world beyond Hawthorn St. was fraught with dangers and temptations. Only family was safe, reliable and sustaining.

Within the family he was broadminded. He didn’t seem to be concerned that neither Wilbur nor Orville seldom attended church. He encouraged curiosity. Orville later in life said Wilbur and he had been “lucky enough to grow up in a home environment where there was always much encouragement to children to pursue intellectual interests and to investigate whatever aroused curiosity.”

In general outlook Milton was a reformer. As a youth he was antislavery and later on a supporter of women’s rights and suffrage. He was a principled person.

He was no stranger to controversy. The first major controversy Milton became embroiled in resulted in the permanent splitting of the church into two factions, the New Constitution (Liberals) and the Old Constitution (Radicals). Milton was the leader of the latter.

Milton had a way with words. He gave this benediction at the award ceremony during The Wright Brothers Celebration in 1909. “We have met this day to celebrate an invention — the dream of all ages — hitherto deemed impractical. It suddenly breaks on all human vision that man, cleaving the air like a bird, can rise to immense heights and reach immeasurable distances. We ask thy peace to rest on this occasion and thy benediction on every heart.”

Here is another example; this time, the occasion is the death of Wilbur. “A short life, full of consequences. An unfailing intellect, imperturbable temper, great self-reliance and as great modesty, seeing the right clearly, pursuing it steadfastly, he lived and died.”

The church split over the issue of admitting freemasons to church membership. Milton strongly supported the church policy that prohibited their admission because he believed the freemasonry constituted a secret society that was unchristian and anti democratic. They were “ominous rivals of Christianity.”

At the church conference in 1869 many younger members of the church, referred to as “Liberals,” wanted to increase church membership and freemasons were a growing untapped potential for recruitment.

That same year the conservative majority, known as “Radicals” of which Milton was a member, installed him as editor of the church newspaper, The Religious Telescope. Milton was picked because the Radicals wanted to exercise better control of the content of church publications. The printing plant was in Dayton, so that necessitated the move of the Wright family to Dayton.

As editor of church publications, Milton became one of the most influential members of the church and a leading spokesman of the Radicals.

After eight years as editor, he was elected a bishop in 1877. Four years later he lost his bid for reelection as bishop and editor because of the vote of the growing number of the Liberal members and some alienated Radicals that were tired of Milton’s uncompromising ways.

Milton moved the family to Richmond, Indiana and continued his crusade against secret societies by publishing a series of articles known as Reform Leaflets. Wilbur wrote and published his first article in support of his father during this period. He followed-up his first article with many more articles and editorials.

Milton returned to Dayton in 1884 with the family.

In 1885, the Liberals established a commission for the purpose of rewriting the old constitution and creed as an attempt to settle the 20-year schism in the church. As a peace offering to Milton, he was reelected bishop with the help of the liberal vote. They then assigned him to the West Coast to get him out of their hair.

When the commission voted on the changes in the constitution, Milton was the only bishop to vote against the change. Outvoted, he walked out and took 10,000 to 15,000 members with him.

Milton reorganized his followers as the United Brethren Church in Christ (Old Constitution).

Six weeks later there was bad news; Susan Wright died after a long illness.

The two factions of the church soon began to fight over millions of dollars of church assets. The largest asset was the printing establishment in Dayton. The Liberal faction didn’t agree that the printing establishment should belong with the Radicals and the dispute continued in courts in seven states that lasted until 1900.

Wilbur, only 22, became the chief strategist in helping his father fight the court battles that ensued, including preparing legal briefs.

Bishop Wright served as the publishing head of the Old Constitution church until 1893. He then tried to get Wilbur appointed to the post, but was unsuccessful. Millard Fillmore Keiter, a Brethren minister, was elected to assume his duties.

In 1901 Keiter was up for reelection. This didn’t sit well with Milton because he suspected that Keiter was misappropriating church funds and he demanded an investigation. This began the second major dispute involving Milton that would divide the church.

Keiter was removed from his publishing position prior to a planned hearing. An audit found that he had left an unexplained deficiency of some $7,000.

Milton went to Huntington, Indiana, the site of the new church college, on February 10 to attend a hearing on the matter. Keiter claimed that the deficiency was just simple carelessness. The church board voted 4-3 in favor of Keiter because they didn’t want to continue the controversy and risk public disclosure after the disputes of the past. They did dismiss Keiter from office.

Milton was incensed at the decision because he was not permitted to question Keiter. “It was a farcical investigation.” He resolved that this wasn’t the end of the matter.

He sent Wilbur and Lorin, who was a trained accountant, to review the records. Wilbur reported back, “there is something rotten here.”

Milton responded with articles and petitions on the matter and ignoring church policy, reported the fraud to civil authorities. Keiter was arrested but charges were dismissed in April 1902 on the basis of technicalities.

The following month Keiter retaliated by filing disciplinary charges against Milton accusing him of libel and breaching the church code of settling disputes out of court. A special church commission was established to investigate Milton’s conduct. A hearing was scheduled for the annual church conference in August.

In May, Milton and Wilbur visited Huntington. The bishop made a peace proposal but it was voted down.

A war of words raged through the summer of 1902. Wilbur took over as his father’s chief counselor and prepared his father’s defense. Like his father, he enjoyed matching wits with the veteran lawyers. Orville did all the typing and printing.

Wilbur traveled again to Huntington to review the charges in detail. Upon his return he prepared a critical essay for publication in the church newspaper. He wrote, “When my father and myself came to examine the charges carefully, we at once saw that the whole thing was a mere sham. There never was any real intention of bringing the case to trail. The real purpose was to harass the accused.”

In the meantime, Wilbur and Orville were working on their 1902 glider. They were still trying to finish the critical calculations on their lift and drift tables resulting from their wind tunnel experiments. Fortunately Octave Chanute offered to help with some of the calculations. He visited the Wrights in Dayton in July and received instructions on performing the calculations. Even with his help there was doubt as to when Wilbur and Orville would be able to journey to Kitty Hawk.

On July 21, Milton wrote in his diary, “the boys resumed the preparation of my third pamphlet and completed it.” The whole family spent several days stuffing envelopes and stamping them.

Orville and Wilbur finally left for Kitty Hawk on August 25th.

While the brothers were at Kitty Hawk in August, the elders of the church in absentia found Milton guilty of “insubordination to constituted authority” and “going to the law” against a fellow Christian. The board did not want Keiter’s irregularities to be made public. They offered Milton sixty days to confess his errors or face expulsion from leadership in the church.

They should have known that Milton would ignore them. He countered that the bishops that made this decision had no constituted authority to make that judgment, thus their action was void.

Many clergy and layman supported Milton and he continued to perform his duties as usual.

After returning from Kitty Hawk at the end of October, Wilbur still hadn’t had time to review all of the lift and drag calculations performed by Chanute because he had to leave again to attend to affairs for his father.

Milton celebrated his 74th birthday at home on November 17.

At the end of November, Wilbur still hadn’t finished reviewing Chanute’s calculations and excused himself to Chanute writing, “Affairs at Huntington have required much of my time and thought recently.”

The showdown on expulsion came the following year in the first week of August 1903, one month before the brothers left Dayton for Kitty Hawk on September 25th with the Flyer for their attempt to be the first to fly. The meeting was held in Messick, Indiana. Wilbur arrived at the meeting just as his father and the presiding bishop were both gaveling the conference to order.

The local sheriff was summoned to restore order and served Milton a “cease and desist order.” Three days later, the bishops voted 22 to 2 to expel Milton. However, the vote didn’t settle the issue and the controversy dragged on.

In May 1905, a General Conference of the church (old constitution) was held in Caledonia, Michigan to decide Milton’s fate once and for all. This time a large majority of attendees voted in Milton’s favor to render the expulsion null and void.

Milton retired shortly thereafter at the age of 77. He lived another eleven years. At age 81 Orville took him up for a ride in a Wright Model B. The bishop thinking that Orville was flying too conservatively yelled over the noise of the engine, “Higher, Orville, Higher.”

As for Keiter, he and some of his supporters broke away from the United Brethren Church. But he got himself into trouble again. He embezzled $2,000 from a supporter and was arrested for land fraud.

The politics involved in these activities impacted Orville’s and Wilbur’s attitude about attending church. They continued to practice their father’s conservative Christian values but decided not to attend church.

One can now better understand the numerous battles the brothers were involved in with their airplane from the perspective of their father’s church struggles. Wilbur was intensely involved with the long time patent fight with Glenn Curtiss over illegal infringements of the Wright patent.

Orville was involved in the Smithsonian controversy over Langley’s Great Aerodrome. The Smithsonian claimed that the Aerodrome could have been the first airplane to fly if only their catapult had worked properly on launch.

Like his father would do, Wilbur defended their patent in a number of time consuming court battles at home and abroad. Orville, frustrated with the fraudulent claims of the Smithsonian, sent the Flyer to the London Science Museum in 1925. He didn’t authorize its return until 1948 after the Smithsonian had publicly retracted their claims.

The Wright Brothers had two earlier businesses before their aircraft business. Their first one was as writers, editors, publishers and printers. Their second one was as bicycle manufacturers and sellers of bicycles. This article is about their first business together — the printing business.

During their printing days, Wilbur and Orville wrote, edited and published 52 issues of a weekly newspaper, “The West Side News,” and 78 issues of a daily newspaper, “The Evening Item.” In addition they printed hundreds of job orders.

Orville started his printing career at the age of 15 in 1886. He and a neighborhood friend, Ed Sines, who owned a small printing outfit, printed their first newspaper, The Midget, for their school friends. They intended the paper to be a weekly, but it only lasted for one issue because Orville’s father Milton was upset at their effort.

The problem was that the young printers left the third page blank except for their company name, Sines and Wright. They were tiring because each page had to be printed separately and all type had to be set by hand. Milton lectured them: “They had not done themselves justice in slighting that third page.” Readers would “get the impression they were lazy and shiftless.”

Sines and Wright continued in the printing business. They originally started did their printing at Sines’ house, but business improved enough that they obtained a larger press and moved to a shed in the back of the Wright home on Hawthorne Street. On cold days they did their typesetting inside the house. They had enough business to hire a neighbor boy to help out for 15 cents a week.

The “Sines and Wright” business arrangement changed after a dispute over what to do with some popping corn they had been paid for a job. Orville wanted to buy more type. Sines wanted to eat the popcorn. They settled the dispute by Orville buying out Sines’ share and Sines agreed to continue working as an employee of Orville. This arrangement lasted for the duration of the Wrights’ printing business, which was sold in 1899.

Both brothers were exposed to the printing business at an early age. Their father was a bishop in the United Brethren in Christ church and a religious writer, editor and publisher.

In 1869 he was elected the editor of the church publication, “The Religious Telescope.” The position required him and the family to move to Dayton, Ohio where the church owned a large printing building in the heart of downtown Dayton.

Milton’s office was in the building and Orville and Wilbur visited him often and had free reign of the building. Orville especially was thrilled with the big steam powered printing presses.

Orville was interested in a bigger press to use. So in the spring of 1888 when he was 16, with the help of older brother Wilbur, he built a printing press out of a folding top of sister Katharine’s old baby buggy, a discarded tombstone for a press bed, firewood and other scrap parts from a junkyard. In a few weeks the press was printing 1,000 sheets an hour.

An experienced printer from Denver took a look at the press and reportedly said: “It works, but I don’t see how the heck it works.”

Orville improved his knowledge and skills in printing by working during two summers in a local printing establishment when he was 15 and 16 years of age. He dropped out of high school before his senior year so that he could devote full time to his printing business.

In March 1889, Orville, 17, began printing and publishing a weekly newspaper, the “West Side News.” It had three-columns on four pages. The subscription price was 40 cents a year or 10 cents for 10 weeks.

The “News” did well enough that in April Orville moved to a small office 1210 West Third Street. The paper expanded from three columns to four.

A significant event in the life of the business occurred at this time — Wilbur joined the business. The masthead showed Wilbur as editor and Orville as publisher.

Wilbur had Yale and a teaching career in mind after high school until an unfortunate accident changed his plans. While paying ice hockey during the winter of 1885 he was hit in the mouth with a hockey stick. The blow knocked out several teeth. The physical and mental impact on Wilbur overwhelmed him.

A number of serious side complications developed after the incident. He experienced heart palpitations and digestive problems. There was concern that permanent damage might result. The prescription was an extended period of rest.

By the close of 1886 his physical ailments seemed to have gone away, but he was left with depression that lasted for an extended period. His mental state wasn’t helped by the serious fatal illness of his mother who had developed tuberculosis and became an invalid before she died July 4, 1989. During her illness Wilbur devoted himself to nursing his mother.

The family continued to be concerned about Wilbur. Older brother Lorin, then living in Kansas, wrote to Katharine: “What does Will do? He ought to be doing something. Is he still cook and chambermaid?”

It is not clear what the conversation was between Wilbur and Orville, but Orville must have convinced Wilbur to come to work in the print shop. This event helped bring Wilbur out of his funk. It was some three years after Wilbur’s accident.

One of the first publications printed under Wilbur’s authorship was a short church tract entitled “Scenes in the Church Commission During the Last Day of Its Session.” It was printed in 1888 and was the earliest record of the imprint of WRIGHT BROS., JOB PRINTERS.

In April of 1890 the Wrights started a new daily newspaper named “The Evening Item.” This paper had five columns with more than half of the columns containing national and international news. It also carried the baseball scores of the American Association and the National League.

The July 17th and 26th editions of the “Item” carried articles about the activities of the famous German glider experimenter Otto Lilienthal. Lilienthal would later be one those experimenters that the Wrights would cite has having an influence on their own flying experiments. At the time I don’t think the Wrights were aware of the influence flying would have on their lives.

The publication of the “Item” ceased on July 30, 1890 after only four months of publication. The brothers found that they could make more money doing job printing. There were twelve newspapers in the Dayton and the competition was fierce.

In late 1890 they moved to the new Hoover Block at the corner of West Third and Williams St. The sign read, “Wright and Wright Job Printers.”

At this location they printed a black-oriented newspaper, “Dayton Tattler,” and other printing jobs for Paul Laurence Dunbar, the famous black poet. Dunbar and Orville were high school classmates and friends. Dunbar chalked on the wall of Wrights’ shop at this location:

“Orville Wright is out of sight

In the printing business.

No other mind is half so bright

As his’n is.”

The United Brethren Church split into two churches and Milton became a Bishop and publishing agent for the Church of the United Brethren in Christ (Old Constitution). Milton’s church had no printing facility so as a result Wright and Wright printed many of the church publications.

In 1892 the brothers were becoming increasingly interested in bicycles and established their first bicycle shop at 1005 West Third St. The shop provided sales and service.

They continued their printing business including several publications. One was an advertising publication named “Tid-Bits” that was printed for special occasions and holidays. Advertising from local merchants supported the publication, which included light-hearted reading.

They printed a magazine-style publication in 1894 named “Snap-Shots at Current Events.” The sixteen-page document contained many articles about bicycles, essays and jokes.

In February 1896 they shortened their publication to just “Snap-Shots” and moved to 22 South Williams St. They listed Wright Cycle Co. as publisher of the magazine. The printing business was on the second floor and the bicycle business was on the first floor. This is the first time that both businesses were co-located.

Several issues displayed large advertisements of the Wright Cycle Co. In April they ceased publishing “Snap-Shots.” It was at this location that they first began to talk seriously about the possibility that man might fly.

In 1897 they moved both the bicycle and printing businesses to 1127 West Third St. This is the building in which the gliders and Wright Flyer were conceived and built.

The printing operation was on the second floor. The financial assets of both businesses were co-mingled.

Much of the printing business by now had been delegated to Ed Sines as the brothers shifted their attention to bicycles. In 1899 Sines reinjured a bad knee and could no longer handle the printing job. It was a convenient time for the Wrights to sell the business to “Stevens and Stevens” who ran a printing business close by.

Orville never did lose interest in printing. In 1930 he designed and built a printing press for the Miami Wood Specialty Co.

Reference: Wright and Wright Printers: The Other Career of Wilbur and Orville by Charlotte K. and August E. Brunsman, 1988.

The historic Wright brothers’ factory buildings in Dayton are in jeopardy. The buildings are the first American facility specifically designed and built for the manufacture of airplanes from 1910-1916. In these buildings, The Wrights helped to transform the airplane from a curious wonder into a serious method of transportation.

The Delphi Corp. now owns the buildings and has continuously used them for the manufacture of airplane and automotive parts. Delphi entered bankruptcy reorganization on Oct. 8, 2005. There are five Delphi plants in Dayton employing 4,200 employees.

The Delphi plant where the Wright buildings are located is the former General Motors Inland complex located on West Third Street several miles further west of the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Park site on West Third street.

Delphi desires to reject its union contracts and terminate post-retirement health-care plans and life insurance for hourly employees.

The Delphi complex covers 67.3 acres. The original Wright Company factory buildings occupy approximately one acre.

The first Wright factory building, building no. 1, was completed in November 1910. It was equipped with the most modern machinery available and capable of producing two airplanes a month. Building no. 2 was built a few months later raising the production capability to four airplanes a month, a capacity greater than any other airplane factory in the world in that time period.

The Model B was the first airplane built at the Wright factories and the first to be mass-produced. Many aviation advancements and improvements were introduced. The Model B was followed by the Models R, EX, C, D, E, F, CH, G, H and HS.

The two factory buildings are single-story rectangular commercial brick. They retain much of their original architectural integrity, including gabled roofs with eyebrow parapets. During the Wrights tenure, building no. 1 contained a double-door entry. There was an office located in front of building no. 1. I have been told that the office is still used.

In 1915, Orville Wright sold The Wright Co. to a group of eastern investors and accepted payment for services as a consulting engineer during the new owners first year of operation. In 1916 The Wright Co. merged with the Glenn Martin Co. to form the Wright-Martin Aircraft Co. and the factory buildings were sold. The General Motors Corporation-Inland Div. owned the buildings during much of that time.

One good thing that Delphi and the previous owners have done is to maintain the factory buildings in good condition. This has not always been the case with other historic Wright buildings. Orville’s laboratory on West Third St. was torn down to make room for a gasoline station.

The downside of the GM/Delphi ownership is that they have had insufficient appreciation of the historic significance of the Wright buildings. Visitors are not permitted. Even during the Centennial Celebration in 1903 Delphi would not allow a picture to be taken of the exterior of the buildings.

I, a former General Motors employee, experienced this myself during the Centennial celebration in 1903. The Wright buildings are located just inside the Third street entrance to the complex. I pulled up the gate and asked the guard if I could take a picture. He said no. I asked him to check with his boss. The answer from his boss was still no. I returned on Sunday when no one was there and took pictures through the closed chain link gate.

The National Park Service has conducted a thorough Assessment of the issues and alternatives involved incorporating The Wright Company factory as a unit of Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park in Dayton, Ohio. As I am writing this, the draft NPS Assessment is being widely circulated for public review and comment.

Here is an excerpt: “If The Wright Company factory buildings (site) were to be added to the park, rehabilitating factory buildings 1 and 2 to their 1910-1911 exterior and interior appearance would offer a unique opportunity to discuss the techniques and practices that the Wright brothers employed for the construction of the nation’s first mass-produced airplanes in surroundings that appear much as they did during the period of significance.”

“The park’s interpretive focus would be on how The Wright Company factory played a role in the birth of the American industry through the early development of the age of flight. Possible exhibits include replica Wright brothers’ aircraft, machinery, and interpretation of the social and economic impacts of the world’s first airplane factory. After rehabilitation, the buildings could accommodate the display of up to six aircraft.”

The are two major obstacles confronting the National Park Service. The first is finding a willing owner to either sell or cooperate in developing the Wright brothers’ factory site as a historic park.

The second is finances. The assessment estimates that it would require $8.8 – 13.2 million in development cost if the National Park Service were to develop and manage the site. This figure includes the cost of interpretive exhibits and media, including machinery, replica aircraft, and aircraft components, estimated at $3.1 – 4.0 million.

The obstacles are great but may be overcome. There is no question that it would be a tragedy not to save this historic gem for the American people.

The National Park Service, if requested by the owner, is willing to provide technical assistance for nomination of the site as a National Historic Landmark. Maybe that is where to start.

Update, 2008: Wright Factories Buildings Closer to Joining National Park. A House committee recently approved a bill that would add The Wright Company Factory buildings to the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park. U.S. Rep. Mike Turner and Amanda Wright-Lane, great-grandniece of the Wright brothers, testified in support of S 3286 and HR 4199 bills. The buildings are currently owned by Delphi Corp.

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

The best scientists of the day tried to solve the riddle of powered flight and failed. Yet, two brothers without formal high school diplomas found the answer. Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, referred to them as ” doers with dreams.” An examination of their boyhood environment provides some clues as to why they were successful.

Their father, Milton, was a bishop in the United Brethren Church. He was a man of strong fundamental Christian values and an iron will to follow them. Born in a log cabin in Rush County, Indiana in 1828 in a religious household, he knew from a young age that the church would be his career.

At the age of eighteen an itinerant preacher introduced him to the United Brethren Church. He experienced a religious conversion and felt salvation. The church doctrine emphasized the importance of a moral life, temperance and abolition of slavery. The church was a protestant sect that was popular in the rural areas of the Midwest in the 1890s.

Milton preached his first sermon on his twenty-second birthday in 1850. He was earning his living by working on the farm and teaching in local schools to supplement his income.

In 1850 he entered Hartsville College, a small Indiana school run by the United Brethren Church, and was ordained a minister in 1856. He also became certified to teach penmanship, grammar, reading , writing, arithmetic and geography.

Milton was a strong supporter of women’s rights. He gave encouragement and support to daughter Katharine who attended and graduated from America’s first coed college, Oberlin College in Ohio. He had selected and recommended Oberlin to Katharine. At the time only 2% of girls attended college. In later years Milton and Orville marched in a women’s suffrage parade in downtown Dayton.

Milton met his future wife, Susan Koener, at Hartsville College. She trained as a teacher studying literature, mathematics, Latin and Greek. Two years younger than Milton, she was scholarly and shy.

She was born in Hillsboro, a town located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Her family later migrated to Indiana. Her father was a wagon maker and wheelwright. Susan, growing up, spent much time in her father’s shop where she became adept in using tools. It would be Susan, not Milton that would help the children in their early construction projects. Milton was an intellectual and amateur scientist, but he was not good with his hands.

Milton’s career grew in influence. He was elected and reelected bishop and became editor of the church publications. The latter assignment necessitated his move to Dayton.

After their marriage in 1859, Susan spent the next 25 years moving the family, as Milton’s church duties required frequent moves to new locations in Indiana, Iowa and Ohio.

Susan considered it was her fulltime duty to raise these children into healthy, strong adults with moral fiber, and model citizens.

Milton inculcated in his children strength of character, firmness of purpose and self-confidence in their pursuits. He taught them that with hard work they could accomplish anything.

Orville and Wilbur lived a moral lifestyle. They never flew on Sundays and abstained from the use of liquor, beer and tobacco. They maintained a strict dress code even while working in the barren sands of Kitty Hawk – wearing white shirts, stiff collars, and vests along with suit and coat.

Milton placed a very high value on the concept of family and maintained a loving environment among family members. He believed that a tightly unified family was the best defense against the pressures of an essentially wicked world which was not to be trusted.

Bishop Milton became involved in serious controversies that produced crisis within the church. The controversies involved what Milton viewed as changes in traditional doctrines. The schism continued for sixteen years and ultimately split the church. Wilbur, while in high school helped his father in his battles by writing and distributing position papers.

The brothers learned from their father’s devotion to correct principles, justice and course of action regardless of opposition and obstacles.

Their father’s philosophy would ring true in Orville and Wilbur’s later battles with Glen Curtiss and other infringers of their patent on their airplane and with the Smithsonian Institution’s claim that Langley was the first to construct an airplane that was capable of flying.

The close bond between the brothers, their self confidence and their secrecy with regard to their experiments and their mistrust of outsiders were also extensions of their father’s philosophy.

Milton and Susan encouraged openness and curiosity and a willingness to pursue scientific inquiry and speculation.

Both brothers, from an early age, were fascinated with mechanical devices. Orville, particularly, enjoyed taking things apart to see how they worked and then reassembling them. This was mechanical aptitude was most likely inherited from their mother who could make or repair almost anything.

Milton encouraged the boy’s scientific interests even while traveling. His duties as a bishop in the church required him to be absent from home much of the time.

One day he returned from one of his numerous trips with a toy helicopter designed by Alphonse Penaud of France. It fascinated the boys who were ages eleven and seven at the time. The rotating twin propellers would fly as high as 25 feet in the air when released from two tightened rubber bands.

The brothers tried to build their own helicopter of a larger design, but weren’t successful. It wouldn’t be until they were older that they figured out why. (The size of a helicopter of only twice as large would require eight times the power to fly). Later in life they cited the toy helicopter as inspiring their initial interest in flying.

Milton would carry on with other educational activities while traveling. He would give his sons geography lessons by describing in great detail the places he visited. He would encourage the children to write him using good grammar and he would critique their efforts.

Both parents believed in formal and informal education and encouraged their children to pursue intellectual interests outside of school. They believed that children needed time to investigate whatever aroused their curiosity and encouraged the boys to skip school on occasion for that purpose.

Their home was filled with books – history, novels, encyclopedias, scientific papers and religious. There was even a religious book by the agnostic, Robert Ingersoll, because Milton believed in learning from studying a diversity of viewpoints.

The children were taught to read at an early age using McGuffey readers. Both Wilbur and Orville acquired excellent reading skills before they went to school. They both enjoyed could read scientific articles in their father’s encyclopedia at an early age.

Orville was home schooled prior to the second grade. When he entered the second grade he told his second grade teacher he wanted to move on to the 3rd reader. She told him to read a particular passage out of the 2nd reader to demonstrate his proficiency. Orville turned the book upside down and read the passage. He passed the test.

Milton didn’t always agree with how reading was being taught in the classroom. One day he went to school to complain that the teacher should stop telling kids to guess at words.

Neither brother received a high school diploma. In 1900 the average American adult had just 5 years of formal education.

Wilbur did not receive his high school diploma in Richmond because his family move to Dayton, Ohio, just before commencement.

The fact that Wilbur did not graduate was discovered more than 80 years later when, in an attempt to award Wilbur Wright the Outstanding Alumni award, a requirement was to have graduated. In 1993, the Richmond Community Schools rectified matters by approving an 1884-style diploma for him, making him the high school’s most famous graduate.

Orville didn’t attend his senior year of high school to devote full time to his printing business.

At the turn of the century a high school diploma was not considered that important. Only 8% of 14-17 year-olds attended high school as most formal education ended with elementary school.

The influence of their parents had a powerful influence on their later achievements. Wilbur, the reflective visionary, and Orville, the impulsive mechanic/engineer, had different but complementary talents that were critical to inventing powered flight. Orville once told a friend, “In a different kind of environment our curiosity might have been nipped long before it could have borne fruit.”