Wright Brothers – Wright Contemporaries

Articles relating to friends of the Wright Brothers.

Charlie Taylor was an indispensable third member of the Wright Brother’s team. It was he who built the custom gasoline engine that powered the first flight at Kitty

Hawk in 1903.

Charlie went to work for Wilbur and Orville on June 15, 1901. It was the beginning of a long-term association between Charlie and the brothers, both as an employee and a friend.

Charlie had dropped into the Wrights’ bicycle shop one evening for a visit. Wilbur asked him if he would like to work for them. Charlie asked, “how much will you pay?”

Wilbur replied, “$18 a week.” That was more than the 5 cents an hour that Charlie was making at the Dayton Electric Company, so he said he would take the job.

With the hiring of Charlie, Orville and Wilbur could now go to Kitty Hawk before the end of the summer when the bicycle business dropped off.

The hiring of Taylor was the recognition by the brothers that they were serious about pursuing their “hobby” of flying. They could now keep up their bicycle business and simultaneously pursue their hobby.

Charlie was on the job for only three weeks when the brothers took off for Kitty Hawk. They left Charlie in total charge of the bicycle shop which included handling all

the money. That was a sure sign the brothers had complete trust in him. Their trust was to be amply rewarded.

The brothers were pleased, but not Katharine, their sister. She didn’t like Charlie’s smoking and frequent use of profanity.

Began Work on Flight

When the brothers returned from Kitty Hawk that year, they knew that the published aerodynamic data on wing lift was in error and that they would have to create

their own. They put Charlie to work building a wind tunnel for that purpose. This was the first job Charlie was assigned that had anything to do with airplanes.

The redesigned wings based on the data derived from the wind tunnel experiments proved to be successful during the Wrights’ experiments at Kitty Hawk in 1902.

Now they needed an engine to power the aircraft. Failing to find a company that would build the engine, the Wrights decided to build one themselves. (One company

did offer to build a one cylinder engine that lacked power and was too heavy.)

Charlie started making the engine in the winter of 1902 and finished it in six weeks following sketches provided by the Wrights. He only had rudimentary equipment to

work with which consisted of a drill press, a lathe and hand tools, but that wasn’t an obstacle for Charlie.

The engine produced 12 horsepower, 4 horsepower more that the target design. The additional horsepower enabled the Wrights to strengthen the wings and framework of the Flyer.

The engine was relatively simple. Fuel flows by gravity from a can into a reservoir in the top of the crankcase, where it vaporizes and mixes with air flowing into the

cylinders. Instead of spark plugs, it has igniters that close like switches when a cam turns, then spark as they separate.

The crankcase was contracted out and was made of Alcoa aluminum.

Building the engine was an amazing accomplishment for Charlie. Although he had limited formal education and little experience with engines, he had a natural aptitude for working with machines.

Charlie worked steadily for the Wrights for the next 10 years as their chief mechanic. He was with them in Europe; with Wilbur during his extraordinary flight circuiting

the Statue of Liberty; at Fort Myers for the Army trials and many other locations. He could claim he was the first airport manager after managing Huffman Field in

Dayton where many of the brothers’ flight experiments were conducted.

The “Vin Fiz”

He left his job with the Wrights in 1911 to be the mechanic for Calbraith Perry Rodgers, who planned to be the first to fly an airplane, named the Vin Fiz, across the U.S. The airplane was a Wright built machine and Charlie knew how to maintain Wright airplanes.

Rodgers wouldn’t have successfully accomplished his goal without Taylor. Along the way the airplane crashed 16 times and was repaired so many times by Charlie that little was left of the original airplane by the time it arrived in California.

Continued Involvement with the Wrights

Charlie continued to work for the Wrights in their Dayton factory and stayed with Orville after Orville sold the factory and retired in 1915. Charlie helped Orville with his continuing experiments and kept his automobile running.

In 1916 Charlie helped restore the original 1903 Flyer for public display at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. This was the first public exhibition

of the airplane and for the first time Orville realized that the Flyer was a valuable artifact that should be preserved.

Charlie left Orville’s employment and moved to California in 1928 where he worked in a machine shop and invested in real estate. The timing was bad. The Depression struck and Charlie lost his investment and his job.

In 1937, Henry Ford hired Charlie to help restore the original Wright bicycle shop and home. Ford was moving the buildings from Dayton to his Greenfield Village

museum at Dearborn, Michigan. Charlie stayed with Ford until 1941 when he returned to California and found work in a defense factory.

Tragedy and Redemption

In 1945, Charlie had a heart attack and never worked again. He eventually ended up in a hospital charity ward.

An enterprising reporter found him there and published an article describing his sorry status. As a result of the publicity, the aviation industry quickly raised funds to

move him to a private sanitarium where he died at the age of 88 in 1956. He is buried in a mausoleum dedicated to aviation pioneers in Los Angeles.

While Orville was alive (he died in 1948), Orville wrote Charlie regularly, including every Dec. 17, commemorating the anniversary of the first flight.

In his last note Orville wrote: “I hope you are well and enjoying life: but that’s hard to imagine when you haven’t much work to do.” It was signed “Orv.”

The October 5, 1896 of the St. John, New Brunswick Daily Sun contained a article titled, A Real Negro Poet; Surprising Gifts of Paul Lawrence Dunbar.

This historic 1896 article is reproduced below:

First, some background.

Dunbar and Orville Wright were classmates at Central High School in Dayton, Ohio. They knew each other well. Paul helped Orville with his writing and literature assignments and Orville helped Paul with math and science.

Orville began a printing business while still in high school and was the first to print Dunbar’s writings including advertising flyers and tickets for poetry recitals. One

was a neighborhood newspaper edited by Dunbar named the Dayton Tattler.

Dunbar’s book of poems, Majors and Minors, came to the attention of William Dean Howells, a novelist and critic and the dean of late 19th century American letters.

Howell’s praise of the book in the Harper’s Review launched Dunbar into the big time among literary circles.

Dunbar often wrote and spoke about civil rights issues and was friends with other famous black leaders including Frederick Douglas, Booker T. Washington, W. E. B.

DuBois.

Here is the 1896 article:

“At last an intellectual bridge has been cast across the chasm dividing the black from the white race! At last, for the first time in the history of this country – or so far

as we are aware, in the history of any other country – a man of pure African blood has arisen to speak for his people in the person of Mr. Paul Lawrence Dunbar.

For several years poems bearing this name have been appearing in the leading magazines, but they bore on the surface no racial mark, and the fact that some of them

were in the Negro dialect counted for nothing since many white writers have attempted that, although with less success. It was not, therefore, until a slender, quiet,

shabby little volume of verse, dateless, placeless and without a publisher, drifted out of the west and accidentally reached Mr. Howells – who is always quick to see

and never reluctant to praise what is really good – that the young African-American poet was introduced to the larger audience which the importance of his work

deserved.

Only then did it become generally known that the author was black, that his parents were slaves who learned to read after they were free, and that he himself had

stood shoulder to shoulder with the heaviest laden of his race. He was educated in the public schools of his birthplace, Dayton, Ohio and was until recently an elevator

boy.

As these facts came out the significance of Mr. Dunbar’s poetry stood revealed, and it was recognized not only for its intrinsic worth, for its lyrical beauty and metrical

quality, which are quite enough to lift into prominence, but as the first authoritative utterance of the inner life of a race which had hitherto been dumb.

The little book thus voicing what had never been before spoken was privately printed and called “Majors and Minors,” the Majors being in English, and the Minors in

dialect, sometimes the dialect of the Middle-South negroes and sometimes of the Middle-South whites, and in the case of negro dialect reproduced with a perfection

that no white writer has attained.

These poems, covering a wide range of thought and feeling, have been gathered with a number of new poems into a much larger volume soon to be published by

Dodd, Mead & Co.

Mr. Howells has written an introduction to the new work (Lyrics of a Lowly Life), and in it he says:

“What struck me in reading Mr. Dunbar’s poetry was what had already struck his friends in Ohio and Indiana, in Kentucky and Illinois. They had felt as I felt, that

however gifted his race had proven in music, in oratory, in several other arts, here was the first instance of an American negro who had evinced innate literature.

In my criticism of his book I had alleged Dumas in France, and had forgotten to allege the far greater Pushkin in Russia; but these were both mulattos, who might have

been supposed to derive their qualities from white blood vastly more artistic than ours, and who were the creatures of an environment more favorable to their literary

development.

So far as I could remember, Paul Dunbar was the only man of pure African blood and American civilization to feel the negro life aesthetically and express it lyrically. It

seemed to me that this had come to its most modern consciousness in him, and that his brilliant and unique achievement was to have studied the American negro

objectively, and to have represented him as he found him to be, with humor, with sympathy, and yet with what the reader must instinctively feel to be entire

truthfulness.

I said a race which had come to this effect in any member of it had attained civilization in him, and I permitted myself the imaginative prophecy that the hostilities and

the prejudices which had so long constrained his race were destined to vanish in the arts; that these were to be the final proof that God had made of one blood all

nations of men.

I thought his merits positive and not comparative; and I held that if his black poems had been written by a white man I should not have found them less admirable. I

accepted them as an evidence of the essential unity of the human race, which does not think or feel black in one and white in another, but humanly in all.”

It is a curious fact that until the acceptance of his book Dunbar had never earned any money by his literary work. After high school he couldn’t find work so he had to

settle for the position of elevator boy at the Callahan building in downtown Dayton. He earned $4 per week. The few books he wrote and which gave him a reputation

were published at the expense of himself and his friends, and brought him no immediate profit.

His rise has been a hard struggle with discouraging conditions. When the acceptance of his new book of poems was announced it was accompanied by a sum of $400.

This amount was in the form of four crisp $100 bills of the new design. The poet had never been the possessor of so much money in his life, and its unexpected receipt

sent him into a state of ecstasy. His success, however, has not made any change for the worse in the simple and unaffected youth, who until recently guided the

destinies of an elevator.”

Dunbar developed pneumonia and died at the young age of 34 on February 9, 1906. The City Fathers of Dayton offered to bury Paul in Library Park stipulating that he

would be the only person interned there. His mother, wanting to rest by her son, declined and he was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery adjacent to his friends the Wright

Brothers.”

The Paul Laurence Dunbar House in Dayton has been designated one of 31 National  Poetry Landmarks by the Academy of American Poets.

Laverne Sci, director of the Dunbar House State Memorial at 219 N. Paul Lawrence Dunbar St., said the selection puts Dunbar “in some wonderful company. I am

delighted at recognition for him that is both overdue and comes at a wonderful time.” (Dayton Daily News 08/05/2004)

Also see: Paul Lawrence Dunbar: The Wright Brothers Friend

The Wright Brothers were quintessential practitioners of ethical behavior. That is more than can be said about some others involved in the nascent airplane industry.

Augustus M. Herring is one such unsavory character who popped in and out of the Wright Brothers’ life.

Herring was an unpleasant man with a big ego who fancied himself as a great inventor in the field of aviation. His boasts were often designed to deceive others.

Herring was born in Georgia in 1865. He matriculated to Steven Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey, to study Mechanical Engineering but never graduated.

Herring told people that he didn’t graduate because the faculty thought his thesis on flight was “fanciful.” In truth he failed to complete the thesis he was writing on the subject of a marine steam engine, not flight.

Orville and Wilbur Wright first met Herring in 1902 during their glider experiments at Kitty Hawk. The Wrights were there to test their new glider that they had designed using the data from their recent wind tunnel experiments.

Octave Chanute, a aeronautical enthusiast and friend of the Wrights, was also there to test two of his gliders. Chanute brought Herring with him to assemble and fly the gliders.

Octave Chanute

Octave Chanute was a retired consulting engineer for a number of railroads, a construction engineer and one of the foremost American authorities on flying. Wilbur had written him on May 13, 1900, asking his advice on a suitable location for conducting glider experiments. That correspondence triggered a lively lifelong dialog.

Chanute respected the Wrights technical advances in flying and wanted them to observe two gliders of different designs that he hoped would attain automatic

stability in flight. The Wrights humored Chanute, believing a better approach was to use human control as they were doing.

The Wrights were leery of Herring coming to Kitty Hawk because they didn’t want to reveal the results of their research to strangers, but acquiesced to Chanute’s request. It turned out that neither of the gliders brought to Kitty Hawk by Chanute successfully flew.

Herring is Bungler

After Herring left the Wright camp, he went directly to Washington where he tried to get a job with Samuel Langley, Secretary of the Smithsonian, who was working on his own “aerodrome.” He didn’t get to see Langley, but left him a letter suggesting that he had knowledge of the Wrights’ progress. Chanute subsequently advised Langley that Herring was a “bungler” and he was not hired.

Herring’s Rascality

The next time Herring entered the lives of the Wrights was after the Wrights filed for their patent in 1903. Herring wrote them and claimed that he held a prior patent on a machine similar to theirs. He offered to form a joint company to market the Wright Flyer on the basis of 1/3 interest for him and 2/3 interest for them. The Wrights ignored what they termed as Herring’s “rascality.”

Wilbur wrote to Chanute, “A copy is also enclosed of a letter received a few days ago from Mr. Herring. This time he surprised us. —- But that he would have the effrontery to write us such a letter, after his other schemes of rascality had failed was really a little more than we expected. We shall make no answer at all.”

Herring Wins Army Bid

In 1908 Herring showed up again. The Army Signal Corps had advertised for bids for a “Heavier-Than-air Flying Machine.” The specification had been tailored closely to the Wright machine.

To everyone’s surprise, the low bidder turned out to be Herring with a bid of $20,000. Herring’s plan was to obtain the award of the contract and then subcontract the building of the machine to the Wrights. His plan was foiled when the Army decided to accept both Herring’s and the Wrights’ bid.

Herring, in an attempt to save face, said he would provide an airplane and fly it to Washington. After the Army had given him numerous extensions to the due date of September 28, Herring stopped the charade by formally requesting his contract be voided for reasons of non-delivery.

Orville Wright (middle left in the picture) had two influential friends in Dayton that helped shape his future as well as the future of aviation.

His friends, Edward A. Deeds (far left in picture) and Charles F. Kettering (far right in picture), had ties to the National Cash Register Company now known simply as the NCR Corporation. The NCR was a dominant presence in Dayton in the early 1900s. Deeds and Kettering were two of its most influential people, having prospered under the guidance of John H. Patterson the founder of the company.

The men left the NCR in 1914 to form their own company, known as the Dayton Engineering Laboratory Company (Delco), to produce the first self-starter for automobiles, an invention they worked on part-time in Deed’s barn behind his house.

Original Wright Company Leaves Dayton

Orville sold the original Wright Company in 1915, three years after Wilbur’s death. The Wright Company merged into the Wright-Martin Company and moved to New Jersey in 1917.

New Company Is Formed

That same year a new airplane company was formed in Dayton. Deeds and Kettering started the Dayton-Wright Airplane Company in 1917. They didn’t know much about airplanes but they brought in their friend Orville Wright as a consulting engineer to help them.

The timing of the formation of the company was fortuitous as World War I came along shortly after its formation. The new company was awarded hefty contracts to produce 4,000 British De Havilland warplanes and 400 trainers for the war effort. It didn’t hurt that Deeds was commissioned a Colonel and appointed head of aircraft procurement of the U.S. Aircraft Production Board.

Orville was commissioned a major in the Aviation Section of the Signal Officer Reserve Corps and ordered to remain in Dayton to advise the engineers at Dayton-Wright.

One of the more interesting projects that Kettering and Orville worked on was a pilotless airplane called the “Bug” designed to deliver a 180-pound bomb. It was a predecessor of the German World War II buzz bomb. Fifty “Bugs” were delivered but never were used before the war ended.

On one occasion, the pilotless plane went out of control setting off a chase by 100 men in automobiles. The plane came down 21 miles from Dayton. When the chase party arrived, puzzled people at the site were searching for nonexistent the pilot.

By the end of war, Kettering had become an avid flyer. One of the first pilots trained by the Wrights taught Kettering how to fly.

As a flyer, Kettering provided two pieces of advice for novice pilots. First, he advised, “never to fly on days when the birds aren’t flying, as they have more experience in the matter.” Second, if you are lost in a fog bank, “throw out a monkey wrench. If it goes up, you are flying upside down.”

Establishment OF Wright-Patterson Air Force Base

Deeds, Kettering and Orville were involved in establishing what is today known as Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. In 1916, Deeds and Kettering purchased land just north of downtown Dayton along the Great Miami River. There, they hoped with Orville’s help, to establish a flying field for training civilian pilots. They barely started clearing the field when the war came along. Deeds sold his interest to the land to Kettering after Deeds was commissioned a colonel and went to Washington.

Kettering in turn leased the land to the government and the government established the first military aviation research center, named McCook Field. It became known as the “Cradle of Aviation. Among other things the first free fall parachute was developed there as well as aerial photography.

In the early 1920s, the government threatened to move out of Dayton because McCook field was becoming too small and could not be expanded. Here again Deeds became involved and a committee was established to raise money to build a new airfield in another location around Dayton. Orville was consulted and the committee recommended a location east of town not far from Orville’s old flying field at Huffman Prairie. The committee raised $400,000 and purchased 5,000 acres of land, which it presented to the government for the token price of $2.00. The land became Wright Field, named for both Wilbur and Orville, and was dedicated in 1927.

Historical Parks Established

Deeds headed the committees that established two historical parks around Dayton – The Wright Brothers Memorial and Carillon Historical Park.

The Wright Brothers Memorial is located on a hill near Wright-Patterson Air Force Base overlooking Huffman Prairie, the Wrights’ flying field in Dayton after their success at Kitty Hawk. The memorial is made of marble quarried near Kitty Hawk, NC. It was dedicated on the anniversary of Orville’s 69th birthday on August 19, 1940.

Carillon Historical Park was established in 1942 as a gift of Deeds. The park’s prized possession is the restored 1905 Wright Flyer. It was this Flyer that the Wrights characterized as their first practical airplane. Orville provided guidance during the restoration.

Orville Dies Of A Heart Attack

The restored Flyer was dedicated in June 1950. Tragically, Orville didn’t live to see it. He had his first of two heart attacks on October 10, 1947, as he was running up the steps of the main NCR building to keep an appointment for a luncheon with Deeds. He was hurrying because he was uncharacteristically late.

On January 27, 1948, he had spent the morning going up and down steps fixing the door bell at his home, Hawthorn Hill. He had his second heart attack shortly after his arrival at his laboratory in downtown Dayton. He died in his sleep three days later in the hospital at the age of seventy-seven.

1903 Flyer Returned to America

Orville’s death created a temporary roadblock to transferring the 1903 Flyer back from Britain to America. In 1925 Orville had sent the Flyer to be displayed in the London Science Museum after the Smithsonian Institution refused to support the claim that the Flyer was the first powered airplane.

Orville had inserted in his will the stipulation that the Flyer should remain in London after his death unless he amended the will with a subsequent letter from him indicating a change of heart.

It was known at the time of his death that the Smithsonian had recanted and Orville had agreed to the return of the Flyer. But, Orville’s letter authorizing the transfer could not be found. It was suspected that the letter was in Orville’s files in the possession of Mabel Beck, Orville’s long time, protective secretary. The problem was that she wouldn’t let anyone examine the files.

Deeds became involved to resolve the roadblock. He invited Ms. Beck to his office at the NCR. When Deeds found out that she knew where the letter was in Orville’s office, he sent her in a company car to get it.

The epochal 1903 Flyer became a permanent exhibit at the Smithsonian eleven months after Orville’s death in an elaborate ceremony attended by 850 people on

December 17, 1948. The occasion marked the forty-fifth anniversary of the plane’s famous flight.

Friendly Endeavors

The threesome of Deeds, Kettering and Orville were involved in many other activities together. Deeds and Kettering formed the Dayton Engineers Club in 1914, a club of the influential men in Dayton. At its dedication, Orville was second vice-president. Later he became president.

They established a new experimental school advocating the nascent progressive education philosophy. Deeds and Kettering both had sons enrolled in the school as was Orville’s nephew Horace. Kettering provided the school building, renovating a used greenhouse he owned. Orville was on the board of directors.

The three men often had dinner together along with other friends. One night after dinner, one of the attendees wondered whether it was a good idea to lie down after a heavy meal. It was pointed out that it was not a good thing because blood circulation slows down after a nap. Orville who had said nothing up to that point then remarked, “If what you fellows say is true, there must be a lot of sick dogs in this world.”

Edward A. Deeds

Deeds was hired at NCR in 1899 as a young electrical engineer for $30 per week. He had been there for a few days when he told the plant superintendent that there was a loose brick near the top of the company chimney. The superintendent ignored him, so a Sunday, Deeds put on gloves and a wet sponge on his nose and with a camera climbed to the top of the chimney and took a picture of the loose brick.

John H. Patterson, the brilliant and often eccentric founder of NCR, admired his “pluck.” “Pluck” marked Deeds as a rising star in the company and eventually resulted in his becoming chief executive officer and chairman of the board. He died in 1960 at the age of 86.

Charles F. Kettering

John H. Patterson wanted someone to electrify the cash register so that it wasn’t necessary to turn a crank when ringing up a sale. His engineers said it couldn’t be done. A motor small enough to fit inside the register would burn out in a short time.

Kettering, 28, was Ohio State University’s outstanding engineering graduate in 1904 even though he was partially blind. Patterson hired him for $50 per week to do the job, which he did.

He was successful because he realized that a small electric motor was capable of a strong, brief burst of power. It did not need to run continuously.

The first electrified machine was installed at the M.J. Schwab cigar store near Third and Main Streets in downtown Dayton.

A few years he used the same basic idea of the electric motor in the cash register to invent the automobile self-starter, his most famous invention.

Kettering had more than 300 inventions besides the electric cash register and the self-starter during his lifetime. They included the automotive electric ignition system, four-wheel brakes, safety glass and Ethyl gasoline.

He always preached looking ahead. “The only thing certain is change. The past should be a guidepost, not a hitching post.” Kettering died in 1958 at the age of 82.

Personal aside: In high school, I played baseball every summer on diamonds laid out on the old McCook Flying field, now called Kettering Field. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, I worked at Delco, the company that Deeds and Kettering had originated.

Schoolmates

The 1890 Dayton, Ohio Central High School class was a most unusual class. Among its 28 members were two world-class prodigies who were destined to become world famous. One was Orville Wright, who with his brother, Wilbur, invented the airplane. The other was Paul Laurence Dunbar who became the first African-American to gain national eminence as a poet and the founder of African-American popular literature.

Orville and Paul knew each other well while they were in school. Paul, talented in writing and literature, would help Orville with his school assignments in those subjects, and in return, Orville would help Paul with math and science.

The accompanying photograph shows the Dayton Central High School class of 1890. Paul Laurence Dunbar is on the left in the back row. Orville Wright is the third person to his left.

Orville began a printing business while still in high school and was the first to print Dunbar’s writings including advertising flyers and tickets for poetry recitals. One was a neighborhood newspaper edited by Paul named the Dayton Tattler. Once Dunbar wrote on the wall of the Wrights’ print shop some humorous graffiti:

“Orville Wright is out of sight
In the printing business.
No other mind is half so bright
As his’n is.”

Later, when Orville and Wilbur were in the business of manufacturing bicycles, they gave one to Paul. It can be viewed today in the Dunbar House.

Orville never received his high school diploma because he dropped out of school before his senior year to work full time on his printing and newspaper business. Paul did graduate with a distinguished record, although he had trouble with trigonometry and had to retake the course delaying his graduation. He was a member of the debating society, editor of the school newspaper, president of the school’s literary society and also wrote the lyrics to the class song.

Dunbar’s Career

Paul obtained fame and fortune before the Wrights, but his future didn’t look very bright after graduation. As with most unknown artists, he couldn’t make a living writing poetry, and he couldn’t find a good job befitting his education, because he was black.

Undaunted, he found a job as an elevator operator in a downtown Dayton office building and turned it into an opportunity. He sold his first book of poetry, Oak and Ivy, at the age of 20 for one dollar each to passengers he met on the elevator.

Dunbar asked Orville to publish the book, but Orville’s printing shop lacked the equipment to bind books. Orville recommended he use the United Brethren publishing house in downtown Dayton. Orville’s father, Milton Wright, was a bishop in the United Brethren church and in charge of the publishing operation.

There is some dispute over how many of the books were published but the estimate ranges from 300 to 500 books. It is estimated that around 200 of these books still exist. In March 2006 one of the books appeared on Ebay with a starting bid of $2,000. The book is estimated to be worth $5,000-$6,000.

Gradually Dunbar’s reputation spread. His first break came when he was invited to recite his poems at the 1893 Worlds Fair. There, he met Frederick Douglas, the famous abolitionist, who was impressed with the young poet and gave him a job.

His second break came from attorney Charles Thatcher and psychiatrist Henry Tobey, who enjoyed his poems and arranged for recitations at literary meetings and funded the publication of Dunbar’s second book of poems, Majors and Minors.

This book came to the attention of William Dean Howells, a novelist and critic and the dean of late 19th-century American letters who was also a friend and advisor to Mark Twain. Howells’ praise of Dunbar’s second book in the Harper’s Review launched Dunbar into the big time among literary circles.

The two books of poems were subsequently combined into one book named Lyrics of a Lowly Life with an introduction by Howells and became a best seller. With Dunbar’s national fame now established, he traveled to London in 1897 to recite his poems. The youngster, born June 27, 1872 in a house on Howard St. in East

Dayton, wrote his first poem when he was only six years old, and recited publicly at age nine, was now an international celebrity.

After returning from London, he married Alice Ruth Moore, herself a writer and also a teacher and proponent of racial and gender equity. Paul settled down into a job at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

Tragedy Strikes

Then tragedy struck. He developed tuberculosis. His marriage dissolved, and declining health lead him to dependence on alcohol and depression.

He returned to Dayton in 1904, a year after the Wright Brothers famous first flight, and bought a home for his mother that is now the Dunbar House Museum. He new he was going to die soon. She took care of him while he continued to write until his premature death in 1906 at the age of 34. His mother, Matilda, who had been born into slavery, lived on to her 95th birthday. She had a great influence on his life. It was she who urged him to educate himself and encouraged his talent.

During his short lifetime, Dunbar wrote 600 poems, 12 books of poetry, 5 novels, 4 volumes of short stories, essays, hundreds of newspaper articles and lyrics for musicals. His “Tuskegee Song” was adopted as the alma mater at the school founded by his friend Booker T. Washington.

Dunbar’s mother and father, Joshua and Matilda, had been slaves in Kentucky. Joshua escaped and served as a Sergeant with the 55th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment and 5th Massachusetts Colored Cavalry Regiment during the civil war. He and Matilda separated in 1874 when Paul was twelve.

University of Dayton poet, Herbert Martin, says that Dunbar’s use of Negro dialect spoken in slave days in some of his poems was controversial to some of his modern readers who believe the use of dialect as a detriment and possibly demeaning to blacks. Martin believes that anyone who cringes at Dunbar’s use of dialect must have second thoughts abut listening to rap or vernacular speech. Martin believes “Dunbar sees the humanity, not a stereotype. His ear was marvelously accurate.”

He wrote about the joys and sorrows of life, especially the difficulties experienced by African-Americans. Here is an example from his poem, “We Wear the Mask.”

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream other-wise,
We wear the mask!