What Dreams We Have
The Wright Brothers and Their Hometown of Dayton, Ohio
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Chapter 3
The Wright Brothers' First Business

With a four year age difference between Wilbur and Orville, they were not particularly close as children. Yet, about the time the family returned to Dayton, the two boys were discovering they had many interests in common and worked well together. Throughout the next few years, Wilbur and Orville developed a partnership that was to last until Wilbur's death. This working relationship started with several large projects and grew to a joint business. Through these various projects and their initial business venture, the Wright brothers formed a great partnership. They worked with each other by using the best ideas from each of them to complete a project or a venture. Their synergistic relationship grew from their ability to discuss ideas and weigh each idea for its potential advantage.

Returning to Dayton in 1884 after spending six years in Iowa and Indiana, the Wright family found a larger and busier Dayton than they remembered. While their neighborhood on the West Side, although slightly larger, was still a streetcar suburb of the main city, the city of Dayton had grown and developed at a rapid pace. Between 1870 and 1880 the city's population grew from 30,473 to 38,721 people. As described in Dayton: A History in Photographs, "By 1870, Dayton was impatient for adulthood, but many of its childhood problems remained unresolved: poor sanitary conditions, muddy streets, disease, poor lines of communication with its boundaries and beyond, and inadequate medical facilities." By the time the Wrights returned to the city, most of these growing pains had been alleviated. [1]

Dayton struggled to improve its muddy streets, poor sanitation conditions, and inadequate communication lines while dealing with inflation and unemployment. Despite the Panic of 1873, the city's industry expanded and helped reduce the high unemployment rates. New companies included The Ohio Rake Company, Stoddard Manufacturing Company, and the Davis Sewing Machine Company. With the increased industry, the city continued to grow and solve the problems of previous years. The YMCA was brought to the city; St. Elizabeth's Hospital was founded; the first telephone line was installed in 1878; electric lights were introduced in 1882; and paved streets and a sewer system soon followed. In addition, the Holly Company also provided the city with a reliable water system. [2]

One of the largest post-war additions to the city was the central branch of the Soldier's Home. On March 31, 1865, the U.S. Congress approved the establishment of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers for disabled Union soldiers. Four locations were established, the central branch located three miles west of Dayton. The Soldier's Home opened on March 26, 1867. Besides being a home for disabled soldiers, the site became a popular destination for Daytonians, for the grounds contained several lakes, gardens, and recreational areas. In addition, the facility became the number one attraction for sightseers from outside of Dayton. [3]

Milton Wright
(Courtesy of Wright State University, Special Collections and Archives)

Not all of these advancements affected the Wright family directly. As residents of West Dayton, they were separated from the center of the city by the Great Miami River. Many of the improvements took several years to appear in the West Side neighborhoods. For instance, electrical service was not available until after 1913 and streets were not paved until sometime in the 1890s. Despite this, West Dayton continued to grow. It soon became a popular neighborhood for both the working class and professionals. Although Dayton had grown, the Wright family found few changes in their old neighborhood and the children quickly reintroduced themselves to it. While a close relationship between Wilbur and Orville began developing about the time the family returned to Dayton, each was also interested in locating their old Dayton friends. One of the first people Orville reacquainted himself with when he returned to Dayton was his old friend Ed Sines. Although they did not live on the same block until the Wrights returned to 7 Hawthorne Street in October 1885, both boys attended Intermediate School at the southeast corner of Brown and Hess Streets. Orville entered the seventh grade on his return to Dayton despite the fact that he lacked a certificate of completion from the sixth grade in Richmond. Dayton school officials tried to place Orville in the sixth grade, but Orville's vehement protests led the authorities to allow him to try the seventh grade. Orville was successful, and he was promoted to the eighth grade at the end of the year. [4]

Orville and Ed soon discovered they both had developed a love of printing. While in Richmond, Orville became interested in wood engraving. After researching the subject in an encyclopedia, he fashioned an engraving tool from an old pocket knife spring. After creating several woodcuts, Orville printed them using a small press Milton owned for copying letters. The following year, Milton gave Orville a set of engraving tools for Christmas. [5]

The other Wright children became interested in wood cuts and often joined Orville in carving designs on blocks cut from kitchen stove wood. Within the Wright Brothers Collection at Wright State University are several prints from blocks carved by Wilbur and Orville in later years. One print by the brothers is a landscape that can be turned upside down without altering the drawing. Another engraving, by Wilbur, is a cat's head labeled "Thomas Grimalkin." [6]

(Courtesy of Dayton and Montgomery County Public Library)

This budding interest occupied the children during their father's frequent travels away from home. In turn, Milton considered their hobbies constructive activity and encouraged it. While attending the General Conference of 1885, Milton Wright was elected bishop of the West Coast. This was a tactical move by the Liberal component of the church to move the bishop as far away from the ruling bodies of the church as possible. With the disagreement between the two factions deepening, it was to the advantage of the Liberals to have Milton, who was the unofficial leader of the Radical movement, in a remote area. In his new position Milton was responsible for all of the United Brethren church activities in Oregon, Washington, and California. This meant that for six months of every year, Milton traveled to his district to visit west coast congregations. He spent the remaining six months of each year in Dayton recruiting support for the Radicals. Milton continued with this schedule until the next General Conference in 1889.

Since Milton was away from home for at least six months of each year, Susan was responsible for taking care of the family. In 1883 she began exhibiting the signs of tuberculosis and was often sick. But she continued to play an important role in her children's lives, for she was able to maintain the strong family foundation laid by her and Milton during his absences. By this time, the children had matured to the point that they were most likely more of a source of help than a burden to her.

Upon returning to Dayton in 1884, Orville was delighted to discover that his friend Ed owned a small printing press. While Ed's press provided an opportunity to experiment with printing, it was not of much practical use, for it only printed one small line at a time. The size of the press did not discourage the two friends, and they soon formed the printing company of Sines & Wright. Orville and Ed set up their business in a corner of the Sines' kitchen. [7]

One of the first projects of Sines & Wright was a twelve page illustrated publication. Each page displayed an illustration and the imprint of Sines & Wright. Four of the images are from woodcuts and the other eight are from heat transfer needlework designs most likely obtained from their mothers' sewing supplies. [8]

As Orville's interest in printing continued to grow, his father encouraged him in his endeavors. Milton suggested to Wilbur and Lorin that they sell a boat they had constructed and seldom used and purchase a small printing press for Orville with the profits. The boys sold the boat and purchased a press that printed a page measuring three by four and a half inches. In addition, Milton gave Orville twenty-five pounds of brevier (eight point sized type) type to use with the new press. [9]

The new equipment required more working space than the Sines' kitchen allowed, so Orville arranged to use the summer kitchen at the rear of the Wright family home. When the weather was cold, the boys were likely to be found working in the Wright dining room. Later, Orville's mother cleared out an upstairs room for the two boys to use as their printing headquarters. [10]

The next endeavor of Sines & Wright was a four page newspaper for their eighth grade classmates called The Midget. Within the paper the young publishers described their endeavor as, "a journal devoted to the interests of the Intermediate School." Milton Wright prohibited Sines & Wright from distributing the paper when he discovered that the third page only consisted of two ornate printings of the firm's name. Orville's father felt this was unprofessional and slighted the paper's patrons. [11]

After abandoning the idea of publishing a newspaper, Orville and Ed continued with job printing. A Sines & Wright business card advertised that the firm printed business cards, letter heads, circulars, envelope addresses, labels, receipts, bill heads, tickets, visiting cards, and engravings "cheaper than any other office in town." One client of the young proprietors of Sines & Wright paid the boys with ears of popcorn. Ed felt that they should consume the profits, while Orville felt that they should sell the popcorn for a profit and purchase more type. The two resolved the dilemma with Orville buying out Ed's share of the business since Orville owned the press and the majority of the type. The two remained friends throughout their lives, and Ed continued to work as an employee at the printing business for wages and commissions. [12]

Orville furthered his knowledge of the printing business by working for Jacob K. Graybill during the summers of 1886 and 1887. The summer employment, amounting to sixty-hour work weeks, provided Orville an opportunity to gain more experience at typesetting and other printing skills. Orville assisted Graybill with the printing of The Christian Conservator, the official newspaper of the conservative leaders of the United Brethren Church, a bi-weekly newspaper introduced in July 1885. In 1887 Wilbur joined his brother at The Christian Conservator office where he was employed as a mailing agent. Additionally Wilbur did some work during the year as a job printer, his first employ as a printer. [13]

On March 4, 1886, The Christian Conservator converted to a weekly paper. Immediately thereafter, both the office for the paper and Graybill moved to Dayton. This offered Bishop Wright the opportunity to become the greatest influence in shaping the editorials that appeared in the newspaper. Graybill's office was first located at his home at 1528 West Second Street, and the following year Graybill's residence and office moved to 1450 West Third Street. [14]

Orville worked with Graybill to learn the printing trade, and he continued to accept job printing commissions and expand his printing equipment. In January 1887, Orville received a case of type and most likely used it when, on January 12, Milton recorded in his diary that, "Orville printed circulars," and then it continued, "Orville set and printed another circular —for Reuchlin." While often printing materials for family members, Orville also accepted various job printing commissions from local businessmen and individuals. [15]

At the same time Orville pursued his interest in printing, Wilbur took several classes at Central High School to prepare for college, which he hoped to attend in the near future. Three of Wilbur's certificates survive from this period. The first, dated November 26, 1884, was for trigonometry in which he obtained a grade of 81. The other certificates were for classes Wilbur took in the winter of 1885. One was for a course on the Roman politicians Sallust and Cicero in which he obtained an 83.5, and the other course was rhetoric for which he received an 87. [16]

Wilbur also participated in sports at Central High School. His neighborhood pal, John Feight, remembered him as an athlete and as one of the fastest members of the football team. Playing in the backfield, Wilbur was a quiet participant, but when given the ball he could move it quickly downfield. [17]

Wilbur also became a member of The Annual Club of Ten Dayton Boys, which was a social club. It was based on the idea of a "last man" club where members met annually and the last member alive usually consumed a bottle of an alcoholic beverage, purchased when the club formed, as tribute to the other members. Edgar W. Ellis conceived of the club in the summer of 1886 when his friend Joseph Boyd informed him that he intended to move to Denver, Colorado, in the near future. Both thinking the club was a good idea, chose a third member, then those three chose a fourth member. This pattern continued until the membership numbered ten. The final roster of club members included Wilbur, his brothers Lorin and Reuchlin, Edgar Ellis, Joseph Boyd, William Andrews, Charles W. Ollinger, Irvin G. Koogle, Wilbur E. Landis, and Frank J. Gilbert. [18]

The first meeting of The Annual Club of Ten Dayton Boys occurred on October 9, 1886, at Reuchlin's home at 1533 West Second Street. At this meeting the club was officially formed and a constitution adopted. [19] The stated purpose of the organization was "to preserve a closer relation of friendship existing between its members, and to keep them posted as to the future lives of their fellow members." The members agreed that annual meetings, consisting of banquets, would be the second Saturday in October, and each member needed to submit a written personal report updating the other members of his life in the last year. [20]

The minutes for each annual meeting included a status report of each member. Wilbur's statement in the minutes from the first meeting in 1886 included the fact that he worked as a clerk in J.I. Hoffman's grocery located at the southeast corner of Sixth and Brown Streets. Reuchlin lived at 1533 West Second Street and worked as a clerk at E. Wright and Son's lumber yard and Lorin, who lived at 7 Hawthorne Street, was a bookkeeper at Farmer's Friend Manufacturing Company. [21]

Wilbur's active lifestyle, his education goals, and social life, changed dramatically when he was injured in an accident, most likely in early 1886. Milton described the incident in later years:

...in playing a game on skates, at the Soldier's Home, the bat of a young man flew out of his hand and struck Wilbur, and some two or three weeks later palpitation of the heart developed, and for some years he was unable to pursue a student's life... [22]

The complications that developed from his accident led the family to insist on a prolonged period of recuperation for Wilbur. For almost the entire year, he lived quietly, assisting in the house as needed. His lifestyle led Lorin to comment in a letter about Wilbur serving as a "cook and chambermaid." [23]

The accident had further effects on Wilbur that profoundly altered his life. Now doubting his health and stamina, he began to question the practicability of attending college, although, by the end of 1886, Milton noted in a reflection on the past year that "Wilbur's health was restored." Succumbing to depression over the uncertainties of his future, Wilbur remained content to care for his mother, Susan. Her tuberculosis had grown worse, and by 1886 she was an invalid who needed constant care. Wilbur spent his free time reading volumes from his father's large library. [24]

The Wright family experienced much change during this period. While Wilbur assisted with the housework and the care of his mother, the Wrights also employed a housekeeper. Milton recorded in his diary on Thanksgiving Day 1886, that the family gave Mrs. Thompson, "a fowl, figs, etc. for their dinner, she being our hired help." It is quite probable that Milton and Susan often changed domestic help, for in January 1887, only three months after Thanksgiving, Milton mentioned that Susan fired Ella Shell, the domestic, for growing cross. [25]

Both Reuchlin and Lorin moved from their boarding house at the northeast corner of West Third Street and Euclid Avenue into the family home at 114 North Summit Street when their family returned to Dayton in 1884. Reuchlin established his own home on Second Street when he married Lulu Billheimer, the daughter of United Brethren missionaries, on April 27, 1886. Reuchlin's financial situation was not stable, and the young couple faced further difficulties when their daughter, Catherine Louise, was born thirteen months later. For part of 1887, Reuchlin and his family lived in Alabama in the hopes of improving their financial situation, but they returned to Dayton by the end of the year. Once again in hopes of finding better circumstances, Reuchlin traveled west searching for work in February 1889. He planned to send for his wife and daughter when he was settled. Eventually locating a bookkeeping job in Kansas City, Reuchlin moved his family to that city, where they remained for the rest of their lives. [26]

Lorin remained in the Wright home through the spring of 1886 when he departed for Kansas City in search of a better job. Discouraged and broke, Lorin returned to Dayton in the fall, but he returned to Kansas again in April 1887, this time to Coldwater, located forty miles southeast of Dodge City. While in Coldwater, Lorin was employed as a bookkeeper and then as the deputy treasurer of Comanche County. Lorin enjoyed the adventurous life on the Kansas frontier, but he was also homesick. He returned home to Dayton in September 1889, and on January 12, 1892, he married his childhood sweetheart, Ivonette Stokes. [27]

The one constant force among the Wright children was Orville's growing printing activities and partnership with Wilbur. In 1888 Orville began to design and build his own printing press. By the time the press was completed and operating, it was such an unusual contraption that people would stop by the office to see it in operation. In later years, Orville retold a story of a foreman from a Denver printing house who looked at the press, and wondered how it worked, for the machine seemed to defy common operating logic. [28]

The press was constructed of non-traditional parts such as tombstones and a buggy spring. As Orville progressed with the project, Wilbur, who was emerging from the effects of his injury, offered his assistance in completing it. Together the two brothers worked to devise a printing press that used the tombstones for imposing stones, the buggy spring to force the type against the printing surface, and a wooden frame. [29]

With the new press, Orville was able to accept more printing jobs and soon Wilbur was assisting him in completing orders. In July 1888, Orville wrote to his father about a job that he and Wilbur were completing for Joe Hoffman and William Bartels who were opening a new grocery on the northeast corner of Third and Summit Streets. While the press was not yet completed, Orville was optimistic of its capabilities. Soon they were able to print two pages of The Christian Conservator at once, and Orville believed that, "the work we can do on this press is much better than that done on the old one. The new press works in an entirely new way." [30]

Orville was able to competitively bid for printing jobs with the larger press. One of his first jobs was to print a tract written by Wilbur. Entitled Scenes in the Church Commission During the Last Day of Its Session, it argued in favor of the beliefs supported by the Radicals. Wilbur had once considered becoming a minister, and he supported his father in the United Brethren controversy. He joined the United Brethren Church when he was about twenty, but in protest over the split he severed his links to the church. Released in the spring of 1888, Wilbur's tract is the first instance in which the name "Wright Bros: Job Printers, 7 Hawthorn Street," appeared in print. Printing of the tract was an immense job, for it was sold through The Christian Conservator and later given away in large numbers to local conferences and church congregations. Distribution of the pamphlet numbered several thousand. [31]

Wilbur's research for the article took place three years prior when the General Conference of 1884 met in Dayton. Milton, along with all the other United Brethren Bishops, was named to the Church Commission. Believing the commission to be unconstitutional, Milton declined the appointment and left for the west coast prior to the first commission meeting. Wilbur, with his brother Lorin, attended the last of the meetings on November 23, when the commission debated the issue of secret societies and other changes to the church's Constitution. Wilbur took meticulous notes and recorded the new Constitution and Confession of Faith that would be introduced to all church members to vote on for ratification. When The Religious Telescope published the proposed Constitution and Confession of Faith in January 1887, Wilbur was shocked to discover that the documents did not match those prepared by the commission, but appeared to have further alterations inserted by the Liberal leadership. Scenes in the Church Commission chronicled these events and promoted the Radical beliefs. As the controversy grew it became apparent that unless an agreement between the two factions could be reached, a division in the church was imminent. [32]

Early in 1889, Orville began considering starting a newspaper for the community of West Dayton, and he soon carried out his idea. Called the West Side News, the first issue of the paper appeared on March 1, 1889, and listed Orville Wright as the publisher. It was distributed throughout the neighborhood free of charge to attract customers. The West Side News billed itself as "a paper to be published in the interests of the people and business institutions of the West Side" and cost forty cents for a one year subscription or ten cents for ten weeks. The paper consisted of four pages measuring 8 13/16 inches wide by 12 1/16 inches long. In a later issue, Orville described the newspaper:

[I]t shall be our aim to insert, each week, the news of interest to the citizens of our part of the city, and also original contributions from any of our readers on matters pertaining to the West Side, space not occupied thus, will be filled with choice selected matter. [33]

Following this description, the West Side News contained clipped articles from other newspapers and magazines, editorials, local news, and advertisements. [34]

Paul Laurence Dunbar, a classmate of Orville's at Central High School, may have contributed poems for the West Side News. Orville, in later years, said that he and Paul had been "close friends in our school days and in the years immediately following." [35] While nothing is attributed to the poet, several unsigned poems from as early as March 1889 reflect a writing style similar to Dunbar's. One of these poems appeared in the last issue of the newspaper:

Come, come assist me, trusted Muse!
For I would sing of the West Side News:
A sheet that's newsy, pure and bright-
Whose editor is Orville Wright;
And by his side another shines
Whom you shall know as Edwin Sines,
Now all will buy this sheet I trust,
And watch out for their April "bust."

The West Side News is an excellent source for documenting the printing business, the Wright brothers' humor, and the growth and status of West Dayton. In the March 30, 1889, issue, Orville advertised for "A boy between 13 and 15 years of age to work in a printing office. No experience required. Apply at 7 Hawthorne Street." This employee would join the small staff of the West Side News that consisted of Orville and his former printing partner, Ed Sines, who was the business manager. [37]

Throughout the thirteen month run of the newspaper, Orville hired several employees to assist with its publication. While none of these individuals worked at the office for the entire time that Wright & Wright published the newspaper, their presence for part of the time signifies the success of the business and the ability of Wilbur and Orville to pay salaries. Other employees in addition to Ed Sines included Harry Ewing, Marion Stevens, and Ed Brown who worked for the paper in various capacities. [38]

The relocation of the offices from 7 Hawthorne Street to a rented space on West Third Street further documented the success of Orville's business. In the April 13, 1889, issue Orville wrote:

We are glad to inform the friends of the News that we have secured a neat little office on Third Street near the corner of Third and Broadway, where our business will be conducted thereafter. Persons wishing to subscribe for the paper or to insert advertisements will find us in the new building at 1210 West Third Street. [39]

The first issue of the paper from the new office appeared on April 20 with several changes. Most importantly, Wilbur was now listed as the editor, while Orville remained the publisher. Also, the size of the newspaper increased to 10 7/8 inches wide by 15 15/16 inches in length. Along with the changes appeared a new rate. A subscription now cost twenty cents for three months or ten cents for six weeks. [40]

Authors of many of the news items, the Wright brothers' humor was apparent throughout their newspaper. In the March 1, 1889, issue readers were encouraged to vote "early and often" in the city elections held on April 1, and on October 5 the Wrights illustrated a problem at a local church saying, "One of our West Side churches has some trouble to keep its young ushers awake during the sermon. Cannot some remedy be found? Paper wads are troublesome." References such as these are scattered throughout issues of the newspaper. [41]

By chronicling the local news, the Wright brothers also illustrated the development occurring in West Dayton. Third Street had always functioned as the main thoroughfare and business district of the West Side, but by 1889 the street began to develop rapidly. Many of the one-and twostory frame structures that housed businesses and homes were replaced by large brick business blocks. The West Side News highlighted the construction of the Waters Block on April 27, 1887. Shortly thereafter mention was made of the business blocks being built by J.W. Booth and L.B. Gunkel. These business blocks were all three-stories tall with stores on the first floor, apartments on the second floor, and a meeting hall on the third level. The West Side News reported that with the simultaneous construction of these three buildings "if a half dozen enterprising business men can be found to occupy them, we will find things just humming about Christmas time." [42]

In addition to new buildings, progress was made on the condition of the streets and the available utilities. While Third Street was not paved, it was frequently scraped and sprinkled with water to maintain a smooth surface and decrease the amount of dust. Later, it was covered with gravel. Despite the constant upkeep, the deplorable condition of the streets was a favorite topic in the West Side News. Comments ranged from "if Miami City only had as much enterprise about it as it has mud, it would soon be the center of business," to "business is reported to be rather dull on the West Side this week owing to the condition of our streets." Installation of sidewalks began in May 1890, with the newspaper reporting the laying of cement on the north side of Third Street and on the west side of Williams Street north of Third Street. [43]

In addition, in 1889 the West Side was equipped with natural gas lines. On June 1, the West Side News mentioned that the gas lines were ready to be installed on Williams Street and by July natural gas lines were also installed along Third Street. The natural gas lines were turned on in September although the installation of additional lines continued. The staff of the West Side News reported that, "Our office is now heated by natural gas and our devil rejoices because he has no more fires to build or ashes to carry out. Likewise our neighbors rejoice and wonder why their coal holds out so well." [44]

As his printing business grew and occupied most of his time, Orville decided at the end of his junior year to drop out of Central High School. This was not due to a lack of scholastic interest but a feeling that his senior year would be a review of all he had previously learned. By the end of his junior year in 1890, Orville had completed all the requirements for graduation except for the length of time in school, and he felt the review of subjects in his senior year would not justify the time spent in the classroom. While Orville was no longer a full-time student, he did register to take classes in Latin at Central High School in the fall of 1890. For these he attended school approximately one to two hours a day. [45]

By the spring of 1889, the family expressed concern for Susan's declining health. Wilbur wrote to Milton, who was headed to Oregon for church business, back in August 1888, that, "Mother thinks that while it is not absolutely necessary on account of her health that you should return before your time is up, yet she would feel more comfortable if you were here." Since the general election approving the new Constitution and Confession of Faith, Milton had been traveling from congregation to congregation collecting signatures for a petition he planned to present at the General Conference of 1889. Wilbur's letter reached Milton while he was in Indiana ready to depart for the west coast. Facing a dilemma, Milton chose to continue his travels, but he returned to Dayton several weeks early. [46]

The United Brethren Church General Conference of 1889 took place in York, Pennsylvania, and Milton left Dayton and his ailing wife to attend the May 9 meeting. His departure illustrated the importance of this meeting and Milton's commitment to the old church tenants, for he was hesitant to leave Susan. At the conference, the opening message addressed the establishment of the new Constitution and Confession of Faith. Of the six church bishops, Milton was the only one who did not sign the discourse.

The final vote to accept or reject the new church documents passed with 111 voting for adoption and only 20 against. In response to the acceptance of the new statements, Milton and fourteen of the twenty delegates who voted against the approval of the new documents met at the Park Opera House in York, and began conducting "lawful" church business, following the old constitution. This group organized what became the Church of the United Brethren in Christ (Old Constitution). Milton, who was the undisputed head of the Old Constitution church, was re-elected a bishop along with Horace T. Barnaby, Halleck Floyd, and Henry J. Becker. [47]

When Milton returned to Dayton on May 21, he found his wife near death. In his diary entry for June 28, Milton noted, "Susan has been very feeble and uncomfortable for some days past." Her health continued to decline and in the afternoon of July 4, 1889, she died. "About 4:00, I found Susan sinking, and about five awakened the family. She revived about 7:00 somewhat, but afterward continued to sink till 12:20 afternoon, when she expired, and thus went out the light of my home." [48]

Susan's funeral was at two o'clock on July 6 at the house on Hawthorne Street. Bishop Halleck Floyd and Reverend William Dillon conducted the service. Afterwards, she was buried in Woodland Cemetery. Milton had purchased a lot in the cemetery the day before for $135, but Wilbur suggested he change to a different one. [49]

Katharine Wright
(Courtesy of National Park Service)

In the next issue of the West Side News, Wilbur and Orville included an obituary for Susan on the second page. In the Victorian newspaper tradition, the editorial was printed with turned rules which created a wide mourning border instead of the traditional narrow column lines. In the editorial the brothers described their mother as, "of a retiring disposition, very timid and averse to making any display in public, hence her true worth and highest qualities were most thoroughly appreciated by her family and those who were most intimate with her." [50]

Milton remembered Susan every anniversary of her death with an entry in his diary. These statements reveal Milton's feelings for Susan and her role within the Wright family. On the first anniversary of her death, Milton wrote, "A sad day. It was the anniversary of my loss of Susan. It has been a year of the light of home gone." [51] The theme of Susan's position in the home was constant in Milton's thoughts. In 1894 he wrote:

This is the fifth anniversary of the death of my dear wife. In intellect, in sensibilities, and in disposition she was all that heart could desire. At home her shining was gentle and pure as the glory of a pearl, and she had no ambition to shine anywhere else. [52]

With Susan no longer overseeing the Wright family home, Milton turned to Katharine, now fifteen years old, to fill her place.

In the years prior to Susan's death, Milton reminded Katharine of her future position in the household and prepared her to step into the role. In 1888 Milton wrote, "You must take good care of Mother while I am gone. Take especially good care of yourself. You have a good mind and good heart, and being my only daughter living, you are most of my hope of love and care, if I live to be old." As much as running the household, Katharine served as her father's representative in Dayton when he traveled. She immediately forwarded all mail to him and took care of financial matters. [53]


The biggest change after Susan's death was Katharine's role in the family. Milton continued with the church and Wilbur and Orville proceeded with their printing business. During the spring of 1890, Orville decided to change the weekly newspaper into a daily. The last issue of the West Side News appeared on April 5 and its replacement, The Evening Item, appeared on subscribers doorsteps on April 30. The new paper continued the coverage of local news started in the West Side News as well as adding stories from a wire service that included both national and international news. Along with Wilbur and Orville, Bob Stevens worked for Wright & Wright delivering papers and feeding the press. At times, his brother Tom would also assist with the delivery of the newspapers. Wilbur and Orville began The Evening Item with very little capital, and after four months they suspended publication to avoid going into debt. [54]

In the farewell article, "Our Parting Word," the brothers mentioned that they had discovered that a daily paper for the West Side could exist, but profits would be small for the first year or two. They found that, "if the people of Miami City as a whole had manifested a genuine interest in the paper we would have continued, but too many were content with the promise to subscribe.... We could not afford to wait on them." Instead, Wilbur and Orville decided to focus on more profitable types of printing such as job printing. [55]

Before the newspaper's demise, the West Side News reported that Z.T. Hoover, who operated a drug store at the northeast corner of West Third and Williams Streets, recently completed plans for a three-story business block on the southeast corner of the same intersection. The West Side News and The Evening Item chronicled the construction of the Hoover Block from the signing of the construction contract in April 1890 to its near completion in July. The tracking of the construction in the Wright newspapers is significant, for upon the completion of the building, the offices of Wright & Wright moved from 1210 West Third Street to a second floor office in the Hoover Block. [56]

Like the other business blocks built on the West Side around 1890, the Hoover Block had three distinct functions. The first floor was divided into thirds and leased for businesses. The second floor was suites and the third floor a large hall. Besides Wright & Wright who leased space on the second floor, the early tenants in the Hoover Block included the Cincinnati Grocery Company; Ross Miller, a barber; Charles Chaffee's Restaurant; and three clerks, William A. Hughes, Fred C. Keller, and Emma Lenz. The third floor hall was used for weekly meetings by the Knights and Ladies of Honor, Gem City Lodge Number 1484, and the Order of United American Mechanics, Putnam Council Number 30. [57]

When the Wright brothers moved their printing office into the Hoover Block, legend has it that Paul Laurence Dunbar scrawled this tribute to Orville on the wall:

Orville Wright is out of sight
In the printing business.
No other mind is half as bright
As his'n is.

In her biography on Paul, Virginia Cunningham states that this occurred on a Saturday when Paul stopped by the printing office to visit with Orville and Ed. [59]

Wright & Wright, Job Printers, continued to service West Side businesses and the United Brethren Church with job printing commissions. The ledgers for the firm reveal that much of their business was from individuals who requested visiting cards, note cards, and postal cards. In addition, local businesses ordered circulars, envelopes, bill heads, and statements. Clients of the firm included James Manning, the builder who sold the 7 Hawthorne Street house to Milton; Joe Boyd, a friend and member of the Ten Dayton Boys; John Dodds, who operated an agricultural implement factory in West Dayton; the Christian Conservator; and the West Side Building Association. In October 1891, Orville, writing to his father, noted that in addition to the profits from printing the Scioto Minutes and Auglaize Minutes for the United Brethren Church, they had approximately fifteen or twenty dollars worth of job printing each week. From these orders, the brothers netted between ten and fifteen dollars profit. [60]

In addition to commissioned jobs, the Wrights also printed advertising books for special events and holidays. One of the surviving examples is TID-BITS for Thanksgiving, 1890. This twenty-page booklet included jokes, light reading, and local advertising. The advertisements ranged in price from $2.00 to $3.50 with each advertiser then given copies to distribute to customers. [61]

During the summer of 1892, a dispute over the division of print shop work between the brothers illustrated one aspect of their working relationship. In July Wilbur and Orville agreed to build a printing press for the printers, Matthews & Light. Matthews & Light, located at 1263 West Third Street, was a frequent customer of Wright & Wright, Job Printers. The Wright & Wright, Job Printers ledgers recorded Matthews & Light requesting printing jobs for circulars, cards, visiting cards, and various other commissions. Shortly after agreeing to construct the press, Lorin presented his two brothers with a rush printing job for the United Brethren Church. The two agreed that Wilbur would continue to work on the press while Orville concentrated on the printing job with the profits, about $2.00 to $3.25 a day, being evenly divided. Orville began to think that in this deal he received the bulk of the labor, and he convinced Wilbur to quit working on the press and assist him. Still dissatisfied, Orville then tried to dissolve the agreement. In response, Wilbur took the case to the "Circuit Court of 7 Hawthorne St." for a decision. [62]

In his argument, Wilbur requested that the court direct Orville, the defendant, to pay Wilbur, the plaintiff, one-half of the payment for the United Brethren printing while the work on the press was suspended and further prays an order directing said defendant to apologize for his insulting conduct, and requesting him to keep his mouth shut in future lest he should be again guilty of befouling the spotless and innocent character of others.

While there is no record of the resolution of this dispute, it serves to illustrate the working relationship of Wilbur and Orville as partners in Wright & Wright, Job Printers. [63]

The brothers often argued with each other to solve a problem. Tom Crouch, in his biography on the Wright brothers, states, "Their ability to argue through to a solution of a problem would prove very useful to them. It was but one of the important elements of an enormously successful partnership..." [64] Wilbur and Orville would debate an issue, sometimes using humor as illustrated in the court case, to finally reach a solution. This process was important to their future efforts in solving the problem of human flight.


What Dreams We Have
©2003 Ann Honious.
Published by Eastern National

honious/chap3.htm — 18-Feb-2004