What Dreams We Have
The Wright Brothers and Their Hometown of Dayton, Ohio
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Chapter 9
Success And World Wide Acclaim

For the remainder of 1908, the brothers were occupied with the demonstration flights and the requirements of their contracts. These flights finally brought the Wright brothers the recognition for their achievements that had basically gone unacknowledged since 1903. By actually demonstrating their flying machine, Wilbur and Orville discounted all arguments raised by skeptics. Wilbur's first demonstration flight in France occurred on August 8. Orville's flights at Fort Myer began on September 3, and Americans, outside of the few witnesses of the flights at Huffman Prairie Flying Field and Kitty Hawk, finally witnessed free, controlled, and sustained flight in a power-driven, heavier-than-air flying machine. For the next two weeks, Wilbur and Orville fascinated the world with their achievement, and then tragedy struck. [1]

On September 17, Orville, piloting the plane with Lieutenant Thomas E. Selfridge as a passenger, plummeted to the ground from an altitude of seventy-five feet. Orville was severely injured and Selfridge was killed. Investigations showed that the crash was caused by a propeller blade breaking and halting all control of the plane. With the plane destroyed and Orville in the hospital, the Army trials were delayed for a year. Wilbur, as the older brother who believed that at times he was more careful and meticulous than Orville, shared with Katharine that he kept thinking that if only he had been there, the accident could have been avoided. Wilbur was deeply shocked by the accident. He found that "the death of poor Selfridge was a greater shock to me than Orville's injuries, severe as the latter were. I felt sure 'Bubbo' would pull through all right, but the other was irremediable." [2]

post-crash scene
(Courtesy of Wright State University, Special Collections and Archives)

Upon notification of the accident, Katharine immediately took a leave of absence from her teaching position at Steele High School and rushed to Orville's side. The doctors at Fort Myer Hospital had diagnosed Orville's injuries as a broken left thigh, several broken ribs, scalp wounds, and an injured back. The x-rays also showed a fracture in Orville's anterior pelvis. [3] Orville remained in the hospital with his leg in traction for seven weeks, and Katharine stayed in Washington with Orville for the entire time. The two returned home on November 1 to a quiet welcoming by the family. Milton recorded the day's events in his diary,

Orville and Katharine came home from Ft. Myer, Va., arriving at 9:00 am. He is brought out from the depot on a wheeled chair. His mind is good as ever and his body promises to be in due time. Carrie Grumbaugh gets the dinner. Lorin met Orville at the depot and he and Netta dine with us. A few call. Flowers for Orville and Katharine came in. [4]

When the Wrights' doctor saw Orville the following day, he put Orville's injured leg in a cast, for he did not believe in the Army's treatment of keeping the leg in traction. Orville's recovery was slow. On Orville's second night in Dayton, Lorin stayed at 7 Hawthorne Street to be near him in case he needed anything. By November 13, Orville was able to get to the bicycle shop when Charlie Taylor pushed him over in a wheel chair, and on November 14 Orville wrote his first letter since the accident to his brother Wilbur. He reported that he was just beginning to get around the house on crutches and "I sit up several hours at a time, though I suffer some from the pressure of the blood in my feet and legs, after so long a period of disuse." His health was definitely beginning to improve five days later when he was finally able to go upstairs to sleep. [5]

While Orville recovered from the accident, Wilbur remained in France. As soon as Orville was able to travel, he and Katharine joined Wilbur in Europe. The three Wright children were together in Europe from January 12, 1909, until May 5. During this time, Wilbur completed his flights in France, trained two Italian pilots, and signed a contract for demonstration flights in Germany. When Wilbur, Katharine, and Orville returned to Dayton on May 13, over 10,000 citizens greeted them at the train station and later at 7 Hawthorne Street. [6]

The first indication of the extent of the activity in Dayton was in Xenia, ten miles east of Dayton. When the train pulled into the station, Ed Ellis and Bill Anderson, members of the West Side reception committee, boarded the train with the news of the crowd gathering in Dayton. When the Wrights arrived at Union Station, their father, Lorin, and Lorin's family were there to welcome them. Liveryman Frank Reisinger provided eleven carriages to transport all the members of the Wright family home from the train station. The brothers rode in a specially designated carriage pulled by four white horses. [7]

When the carriages reached the West Side, the sidewalks were crowded with residents out to greet their now famous neighbors, the Wright brothers. The streets were so mobbed that policemen were needed to maintain a pathway for the carriages. Reaching Hawthorne Street, the Wrights found the block between Fourth and Fifth Streets festooned with Japanese lanterns and flags. A bandstand was set up in front of the Wright home, and as they arrived, the band began playing "Home Sweet Home." A welcoming address was given by Albert Shearer, a descendant of Milton's Uncle Asahel and the owner of the hardware store, Roney & Shearer, located at 10 East Fifth Street in the Pruden Building, and John C. Eberhart presented the brothers with a certificate of friendship. This was just the beginning of the jubilant homecoming for the Wright brothers. The following day, Dayton Mayor Burkhardt and a delegation from City Hall called at 7 Hawthorne Street to inform the family of a celebration being planned for mid-June. [8]

Following the May 13, 1909, festivities, Elmer C. Estabrook, Frank Hale, and Clyde McLane, all West Side residents, fondly reminisced of the day's activities honoring their famous neighbors. Eastabrook suggested that they should commemorate the day by naming it the Wright Homecoming Day and celebrating the event annually. This idea took hold and the three began discussions of forming a Dayton-based aeroplane club to promote the idea. Rapidly, other residents of the West Side joined the group. Eight members attended the first official meeting held in Frank Hamburger's hardware store. The first members were O.J. Needham, Charles Webbert, D.W. Landis, William C. Fouts, and Frank Hamburger in addition to the three founders Estabrook, Hale and McLane. Needham was elected the first president. By the second meeting, the club had outgrown the space in the hardware store, and they began meeting in the third floor auditorium of the Hoover Block. [9]

Once they were back in Dayton together, Wilbur and Orville began analyzing the broken propeller from the Fort Myer accident, testing a replica, and assembling another plane for the next Fort Myer demonstration. For the next several weeks, they worked in the old bike shop and the barn behind Lorin's house at 1243 West Second Street conducting tests and making preparations; the brothers wanted to ensure a successful demonstration. Wilbur and Orville were assisted by their long time employee Charlie Taylor and William Ross, a machinist who began working for the Wrights the previous month. This work was constantly interrupted. Wilbur shared with Chanute, "We have been very busy on a machine for Ft. Myer and as we are interrupted very much the work goes slower than we could wish." [10]

Included in these interruptions was some traveling. The brothers traveled to the Packard Plant in Detroit to meet with Russell Alger. Alger was among a group of industrialists considering the establishment of a company to produce Wright aircraft. Two weeks later, Wilbur, Orville, and Katharine traveled to Washington at President Taft's invitation. Unable to attend the ceremonies in Dayton, President Taft presented the Wrights with the Aero Club of America medal at a White House ceremony. [11]

Upon their return to Dayton, Wilbur and Orville prepared for the Homecoming Celebration planned by the city. This was not an event the reticent brothers looked forward to attending. Wilbur shared his thoughts with Chanute, writing, "The Dayton presentation has been made the excuse for an elaborate carnival and advertisement of the city under the guise of being an honor to us. As it was done in spite of our known wishes, we are not as appreciative as we might be." In adding his congratulations to those they would receive at the celebration, Chanute told Wilbur he believed that they must accept the inevitable: "I know the reception of such honors becomes oppressive to modest men and they would avoid them if they could, but in this case you have brought the trouble upon yourselves by your completing the solution of a world-old problem, accomplished with great ingenuity and patience at much risk of personal injury to yourselves." [12]

In preparation of the upcoming event, the City of Dayton constructed a Court of Honor. Designed by Henry Kablerske from Fisher & Sons of Philadelphia, the Court of Honor was located on Main Street between Third Street and the Soldier's Monument. At the four corners of the intersection of Third and Main Streets, arches were constructed in which two statues, by sculptor Joseph Adelbert Horchert, of the Goddess of Victory were placed. Along Main Street large columns were erected with flowers on the top. Electric lights and garlands were strung between the columns, and each evening throughout the celebration the Court of Honor was illuminated. [13]

The celebration began on June 17 at 9:00 in the morning with every factory whistle blowing and every bell ringing. Large crowds gathered for the event, for all businesses and schools were closed to allow everyone to attend the celebration. At 10:00 a carriage, escorted by bands, picked Wilbur and Orville up at their home to transport them to the opening events in Van Cleve Park. Orville rode with his father, nephew Milton, and boyhood friend Ed Sines. Wilbur, in the second carriage, was escorted by members of the Ten Dayton Boys club. As a joke, as the bystanders reached out to shake the brothers' hands, Ed Sines and Ed Ellis reached out of the carriages to clasp their hands. The unknowing spectators believed that they were greeted by Wilbur and Orville. [14]

(Courtesy of Dayton and Montgomery County Public Library)

That afternoon, the brothers reviewed an exhibition parade and a drill by the Dayton Fire Department, and in addition, they were presented with keys to the city. Later that day, Wilbur and Orville attended a public reception at the Y.W.C.A., and then they were finally able to find time to return to their bicycle shop to complete some work. In order to obtain privacy, they had to hang canvas on all the windows to shield themselves from all the people gathered on the sidewalk. The brothers stopped working later that night to view a wonderful display of fireworks that included eighty-foot high portraits of Wilbur and Orville entwined with an American flag. [15]

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

The next day was just as busy for the brothers. The Wright family, including Reuchlin and his family who traveled from Kansas for the celebration, assembled at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds on a stage with 2,500 Dayton public school children seated behind them. The children were dressed in red, white, and blue and sitting in a presentation of the American flag. The day started with the bishop giving an invocation, which was followed by the presentations of medals. Wilbur and Orville received three honors that day: General James Allen, chief signal officer of the Army, presented a medal ordered by an act of Congress; Ohio Governor Judson Harmon awarded a medal from the Ohio legislature; and Mayor Edward E. Burkhardt of Dayton gave a medal from the city. [16]

In the afternoon, there was another parade in which Colonel A.J. Clark, Governor of the National Military Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, served as the grand marshal. The Wright family reviewed the parade, which included a model of a Wright airplane, from a grandstand at First and Main Streets. The festivities ended with an illuminated automobile parade that night. [17]

The following day, Wilbur and Orville left for Washington to complete the demonstration requirements for the United States government at Fort Myer. Milton and Reuchlin joined Wilbur and Orville in Fort Myer to observe the flights, although they departed prior to the official trial flight. Katharine also traveled to Washington and was in attendance for the trial flight. During the flight, Orville flew an average speed of 42.583 miles per hour. This flight, along with the flight lasting over an hour with Lt. Frank P. Lahm the previous day, met the requirements for the United States contract. With the successful completion of the terms, Orville and Katharine returned home to Dayton on August 1 and Wilbur arrived a day later. [18]

Wilbur and Orville did not remain in Dayton for long. On August 8, Orville and Katharine departed for Germany to continue the negotiations begun by Wilbur in 1908 and conduct demonstration flights. In order to make the trip, Katharine took another leave of absence from her teaching job at Steele High School. This was her last leave of absence, for she never returned to her teaching position. [19]

Wilbur traveled to Washington to inspect a flying field at College Park, Maryland, where he would train United States Army pilots. The College Park flying field was located near the Maryland Agricultural College and was larger and more open than the field used at Ft. Myer for the demonstration flights. The majority of Wilbur's time was devoted to teaching the first two Army pilots, Lieutenants Frank Lahm and Frederick E. Humphreys, how to fly. Also, Benjamin Foulois, who was initially selected but then sent on another assignment, was present for part of the lessons. [20]

In between inspecting the flying field at College Park and instructing the Army pilots, Wilbur flew to New York to initiate a patent suit against the Herring-Curtiss Company and Glenn H. Curtiss. This lawsuit was an attempt by the Wright brothers to protect their invention since previously they had informed Curtiss, who was now producing airplanes, that his machines infringed on the Wright patents, but Curtiss ignored the warnings. [21]

Curtiss was born on May 21, 1878, in Hammondsport, New York. A bicycle and motorcycle racer, he began building motorcycles, including the engines, in 1900. Through Tom Baldwin, Curtiss became involved with constructing lightweight engines to power flying machines. On February 19, 1909, Curtiss formed the Herring-Curtiss Company with August Herring in New York and began producing airplanes. Curtiss's use of the Wright brothers' technology in direct competition with them and his refusal to reach an agreement motivated Wilbur and Orville to file the suit for infringement on their patent. This suit would not be resolved for many years, and much of Wilbur's time was spent on this litigation. [22]

Despite the initiation of litigation, the Wrights remained focused on their regular business. On July 16, 1909, Edward A. Deeds wrote to the Wright brothers to offer them the use of a new ignition system developed by Charles F. Kettering in The National Cash Register Company Inventions Department. Deeds described the system as, "using only dry batteries and gives an economy which is surprising and an absolute timing equal, if not superior, to a magneto." Deeds offered the ignition system to the Wright brothers, "as the outcome of a general interest that we all have in the success of your undertaking, and if in any way this will contribute to it I hope you will feel perfectly free to accept the offer." The Wrights felt that their system was adequate and did not accept Deeds' offer. Yet, this initial contact eventually led to a friendship that developed throughout the years. [23]

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

Wilbur returned to New York at the end of September to participate in the Hudson-Fulton Celebration. As part of this celebration, Wilbur made several flights that were witnessed by millions of people. In his most spectacular flight, Wilbur flew twenty-one miles from Governors Island up the Hudson River beyond Grant's Tomb and back to the starting point. Since the flights were over water, Wilbur strapped a red canoe to the bottom of the plane in the hopes that if anything went wrong the canoe would keep the airplane afloat. In order to make it water-tight, the open part of the canoe was covered with canvas. [24]

The brothers were once again together in Dayton on November 7, and they immediately began to focus on the organization of an American company to manufacture Wright airplanes. The potential deal with Russell Alger never materialized, so the brothers began to consider other options. The person instrumental in the formation of what became The Wright Company was Clinton R. Peterkin, a young man who was interested in becoming a promoter for business deals. Peterkin had experience working as an office boy at J.P. Morgan & Company, and he recently returned from the west due to health problems. Approaching the Wright brothers about the formation of an airplane company, he first met Wilbur at the Park Avenue Hotel in New York in October 1909. In response to Peterkin's questions, Wilbur stated that he and his brother would only be interested in the formation of a company if the investors were men of consequence. With Peterkin's connections to J.P. Morgan, he believed he could locate some interested individuals. Wilbur agreed to let Peterkin pursue the idea, although he believed Peterkin would soon become discouraged. [25]

Peterkin was able to arrange a deal, and The Wright Company was incorporated in New York on November 22, 1909. Initially, J.P. Morgan agreed to purchase stock in the company, but during negotiations it was determined that Morgan might dominate the company, and he voluntarily withdrew. The final incorporating stockholders included Wilbur and Orville, along with Russell Alger, Alpheus E. Barnes, August Belmont, Robert J. Collier, Howard Gould, Andrew Freedman, and Cornelius Vanderbilt along with several other prominent individuals. Wilbur was designated president and Orville and Andrew Freedman, vice-presidents. As a result of the deal, the Wrights received $100,000 outright, forty percent of the stock, and a ten percent royalty on every airplane sold. In turn, the Wrights assigned their American patent rights to the company. [26]

While the company maintained a New York office, all manufacturing was completed in Dayton. Frank Russell, Russell Alger's cousin, was appointed factory manager. Russell arrived in Dayton and met the Wrights at the old bicycle shop on Third Street. As they had no office space for him in the building, they suggested using space in Charles Webbert's plumbing shop a little ways down the street. This would serve as Russell's temporary headquarters until a factory location was established. [27]

The first Dayton location of The Wright Company was in rented space at the Speedwell Motor Car Company factory. The leased building was a one-story brick structure with a sawtooth roofline that stood on the east side of Essex Avenue. The Wright Company began operations in February 1910. The Speedwell plant was used for assembling the airplanes while the engines were built at 1127 West Third Street. Completed engines were then transported to the factory for installation in the airplanes. [28]

In order to meet the demands for completed engines, the Wrights hired several more employees to work at the bicycle shop. One of these was Fred Kreusch who answered an advertisement in the Dayton Daily News for a "first-class machinist," and he joined Charlie Taylor and Bob Elliott in the small operation. Despite the increased activity at the Wrights' shop, Kreusch found that only Wright family members and Frank Hamburger were captivated by the Wright brothers' undertaking; the other neighbors were never very interested in what the Wrights were undertaking. The one time that neighbors took an interest in the endeavors taking place at 1127 West Third Street was when the engines were tested in the backyard. While the noise aggravated neighbors and brought some complaints, the tests also attracted attention. Led by their curiosity, neighborhood children would come into the yard to see what was creating all the noise. [29]

Soon Tom Russell also joined the growing list of Wright employees. [30] A toolmaker at The National Cash Register Company, Russell met with Charlie regarding the position. The first thing Charlie asked Tom was whether he wore one of the dust coats when he worked at The National Cash Register Company. Tom replied that he did not for he felt it was too dangerous around the machinery. The future employee had passed the first test; Charlie believed that anyone who wore a dust coat was not a good worker. After discussing how Tom would machine a piston casting and cylinder casting, Charlie hired him. [31]

With a growing list of employees and facilities, the new company soon produced two airplanes a month. The first airplane produced was the Model B. It was a two-seat dual control biplane with a wheel-and-skid undercarriage. These airplanes were test flown at Huffman Prairie Flying Field. The planes were transported at night in order to avoid traffic and the interurban cars. In most cases, they were loaded onto hay wagons pulled by horses although trucks were also used to transport the airplanes. [32]

Almost immediately, plans were underway to construct permanent factory buildings for The Wright Company. Located west of Dayton in a corn field on Coleman Avenue, just south of West Third Street, the first building was completed in November 1910. It was a one-story brick building containing a total of 4,000 square feet. Upon completion of the building, all operations, including the construction of motors, transferred to the site. To meet the demands of the increasing business, an additional factory building was completed on the site in 1911. With the two factory buildings, The Wright Company was able to produce four airplanes per month, the greatest production capacity of any airplane factory in the world. The first models manufactured at this site included the Model B, Model EX, Model C, and Model D. [33]

Wright Company Building
(Courtesy of NCR Archives at Montgomery County Historical Society)

Still interested in design although much of their time was spent managing their company, the Wrights began experimenting with seaplanes in the Great Miami River south of the city in 1911. This section of the river was free from man-made obstacles such as overhead wires or bridges and it contained a deep pool of water formed by a hydraulic dam. The first successful seaplane was The Wright Company's 1911 B-1. This plane, a pontoon-equipped version of the Model B, was later purchased by the United States Navy. [34]

In addition to manufacturing airplanes, engines, and instruments, The Wright Company also developed an exhibition flying team. The brothers hired Roy Knabenshue, a balloonist from Toledo, Ohio, to manage the exhibition flights. Knabenshue had contacted the Wrights at an earlier date about exhibition flights, but at the time they were not interested. Now, as they began to develop their own exhibition flying team, they recalled Knabenshue's interest. After their discussion, Knabenshue agreed to work for The Wright Company arranging public flights. He came on board in mid-March and established an office for the exhibition team in the United Brethren building at 40 South Main Street. His responsibilities included bookings, logistics, and dealing with the pilots and their problems. The first employee he hired was Mabel Beck as his secretary. [35]

While Knabenshue planned and scheduled public exhibitions, Orville trained the pilots. The Wright Company arranged to lease the Huffman Prairie Flying Field from Torrence Huffman for training and test flights. As the exhibition flying team was developing near the end of the winter, the weather was not yet suitable for flying at Huffman Prairie Flying Field. As an alternative, the company established a temporary training site in Montgomery, Alabama, that was used until the end of May. The first pilot Orville trained was Walter Brookins from Dayton. Brookins, then twentyone years old, had known the Wrights since he was four. He was a former student of Katharine's and very interested in flying. Over the previous few years, he had spent many hours at the bicycle shop watching the research and work that went into the Wright airplanes. After Orville left Montgomery on May 8 to return to Dayton, Brookins became the exhibition team instructor. [36]

In the spring, preparations began to establish the flying school at Huffman Prairie Flying Field. The first step was constructing a new hangar. With the need for secrecy no longer forefront in the Wrights' minds, the new hangar was built closer to Simms Station than any of the Wrights' previous hangars. It was near the intersection of Dayton-Yellow Springs Road and to the south. Like the Wrights' two previous hangers, the 1910 hangar was wood frame but of a different design. Large doors on the front facade opened by sliding sideways on an overhead rail. The building measured approximately sixty feet by one hundred feet and held up to three airplanes. The doors were ten-feet high, but they were not large enough to admit some of the Wright airplanes. In 1916, Orville, who was giving guidance on the construction of a hangar, suggested fourteen foot high doors would be more appropriate. [37]

Upon his return to Dayton, Orville began training pilots at Huffman Prairie Flying Field. The original members of the flying team included Brookins, Arch Hoxsey, and A.L. Welsh. Both Spencer Crane and J.W. Davis failed to qualify as pilots, but Davis stayed on as a mechanic for the team. The pilots in the Wright exhibition team were subject to stricter rules than those on other exhibition teams. The Wright family rules were in effect for all of them. This meant no drinking, or gambling, and no flying on Sundays. [38]

One of the later additions to the exhibition team was Frank Coffyn. Coffyn, the son of a New York banker, was working on some of the financing for The Wright Company. Anxious to become a pilot, Coffyn arranged to meet Wilbur when he was in New York on business. After introductions, Coffyn launched into an explanation of why he was interested in flying. Wilbur suggested that in several months he come to Dayton, and they would see "how we like each other." [39]

Once selected as a potential member of the exhibition team, Coffyn received about an hour and a half of flying lessons from Orville and then Walter Brookins took over Coffyn's lessons for another hour and a half. After three hours of instruction, Coffyn soloed and was ready to join the exhibition team. The exhibition team participated in aviation meets throughout the country, providing a first hand opportunity for many people to witness human flight. The five members of the exhibition team signed two-year contracts with The Wright Company. The pilots made a base salary of twenty dollars a week and fifty dollars a day for every day they flew; any prizes awarded during any of the exhibition flights were retained by The Wright Company. [40]

(Courtesy of Wright Brothers National Memorial)

The first exhibition that the Wright team participated in was in conjunction with the Indianapolis Air Show on June 13 through 18. The Wright Company disbanded its exhibition team in November 1911 in response to the number of accidents, two of them fatal, experienced by the pilots. At that time the company began to concentrate more on manufacturing. [41]

In addition to use as a training field for the exhibition team, Huffman Prairie Flying Field was the site of the Wright School of Aviation. The school offered a program that included instruction in the principles of flight and the construction of flying machines as well as four hours of flying. The flight instruction was given in a series of flights ranging from five to fifteen minutes in length. There were no regular classes; each pupil was given individual training. The instruction lasted a week to ten days with approximately an hour of training each day. In 1912, the tuition was $500. There were no other costs, and the pupil was not responsible for any damage to a flyer. By 1914, the cost was $250, but instruction was given in classes numbering not more than four or five students. [42]

Both private students and those involved in the United States military aviation program learned to fly at Huffman Prairie Flying Field. Late in his life Orville compiled a list of 119 people who learned to fly at the flying school at Huffman Prairie Flying Field. The list included Lieutenants Frank Lahm and Charles DeForest Chandler, who began their training at College Park, Maryland, and completed their instruction in Dayton, the first naval aviators, Lieutenants Kenneth Whiting and John Rodgers, who first soloed at the prairie, as well as Lieutenant Henry H. "Hap" Arnold, who rose to the rank of five star general and was the first Chief of Staff for the new U. S. Air Force. [43]

Many of the students at Huffman Prairie Flying Field recorded their experiences while learning to fly. One of the most thorough accounts was by Hap Arnold in his book Global Mission. Arnold and his fellow Signal Corps student, Second Lieutenant Thomas DeWitt Milling arrived in Dayton in May 1911 to receive flight instruction from the Wright brothers. The two military men went first to The Wright Company offices on West Third Street. Arnold and Milling spent several days at the factory learning the fundamentals of flight. In a back room there was an old plane balanced on supports and set up as a simulator with wing tips that moved up and down. This machine was used to demonstrate the control system to students and familiarize them with the controls. Arnold remembered his experiences at the factory as very beneficial, for he became familiar with the construction and maintenance features of the Wright airplane. This was necessary for the first military pilots since there were no trained mechanics or grounds crew.

The Wright plane carried the pilot and a passenger, and the controls could be operated from either the left or the right seat. To move the elevator, there was a control stick on one side of the pilot seat. There were two controls for the elevator, one at the outside edge of each seat. Then in the middle of the seats was the one control for the lateral balance and rudder. With this set-up, anyone a right-handed pilot trained became a left-handed pilot and the reverse for anyone a left-handed pilot trained. Arnold and Whiting were both trained as "left-seat" pilots. Thus all of their pupils became "right-seat" pilots.

After several days training at The Wright Company to become familiar with the controls, Arnold and Whiting began actual flight training at Simms Station. Arnold's training with Al Welsh lasted ten days and consisted of twenty-eight flights. His total time in the air was three hours and forty-eight minutes. During the lessons, Arnold progressed from being a passenger with no responsibility, to operating the elevator or the warping lever for a portion of the flight, and finally to taking-off and landing by himself. After his first successful flight, the official training was completed. [44]

While Arnold and Whiting were in Dayton, the Wright brothers invited them to their home every Sunday for dinner. Wilbur, Orville, Katharine, and their father were always at these meals and sometimes their brother Lorin would stop by for a visit after the meal. Arnold was impressed by the amount of support that both Katharine and their father gave to the brothers in their aeronautical pursuits. [45]

Along with the flying school operations, the Wrights continued to fly at Huffman Prairie Flying Field, and three of the flights that occurred in May 1910 were very significant. On May 21, Wilbur piloted a short flight of one minute, twenty-nine seconds. This would be his last flight as a pilot in the United States. Then, on May 25, Wilbur and Orville, with Orville as pilot, flew together for the first and only time. In addition, on that same day, Orville flew with his father as a passenger. This was his eighty-two year old father's first and only flight. During the flight, Milton kept persuading his son to "go higher, go higher." Wilbur and Orville's employee Tom Russell remembered Milton stopping at the bicycle shop after the flight and hearing how "tickled to death" his employers' father was over his experience. [46]

(Courtesy of Library of Congress)

In addition to the training flights in 1910, record-making flights occurred at Huffman Prairie Flying Field. As part of the Greater Dayton Association industrial exhibit in September, Orville made a flight over the city on September 22. Orville took off from Huffman Prairie Flying Field and flew into the city, along Williams Street, over 7 Hawthorne Street, to the outer limits of the city, and up the Mad River to the flying field. Edward Deeds recalled in later years that everyone who witnessed the flight developed either lumps in their throats or tears in their eyes at the sight they were witnessing, for they were all experiencing something that most people believed would never occur in their lifetimes. [47]

Additional records and advancements that occurred at Huffman Prairie Flying Field included experiments begun on July 21 to use wheels instead of skids. Also, the first airplane to carry commercial freight took off from Huffman Prairie Flying Field on November 7. Phil O. Parmelee, the pilot, carried several bolts of silk in the passenger seat on a sixty-one minute flight to Columbus. The Morehouse-Martin Company of Columbus arranged for the shipment that cost $5,000 or approximately $71.00 per pound. [48]

While involved with record-breaking advancements, the Wrights never forgot their neighbors and original supporters. On May 13, the first anniversary of the formation of the Dayton Aeroplane Club, the members visited Huffman Prairie Flying Field. Wilbur and Orville were at the flying field and were gracious hosts to their guests. The outing consisted of a picnic lunch and viewing several flights by the Wright brothers. [49]

With all the publicity surrounding the Wright brothers' demonstration flights beginning in 1908, the flights at Huffman Prairie Flying Field were no longer a secret. By 1910 many sightseers traveled out to Simms Station to witness first hand the extraordinary invention of the Wright brothers. One evening, Orville was standing near the hangar when a bystander walked up to him. Mistaking Orville for an employee, the bystander shared with him that he had flown with Orville in Montgomery and Orville had invited him to make himself at home at the flying field. [50]

During one of his European trips when Orville took a little girl on a flight in France, the news triggered the imagination of Lorin's daughter Leontine. She wrote to her "Uncle Orv" and requested to be the first girl to fly in the United States. Orville did not immediately respond to Leontine's request, but when he returned from Europe, he offered to take Leontine, her sister Ivonette, and Reuchlin's daughter Ellwyn, who was visiting from Kansas, on a flight. The three girls and Orville took the interurban out to Huffman Prairie Flying Field. Upon their arrival, the girls sat on the fence near the road and watched their uncle prepare the plane for their flights. Because of her request, Leontine was the first passenger, then Ellwyn since she was the guest, and then Ivonette. In later years, Ivonette recalled the experience:

I got into the passenger seat when the propellers and engine were going, and when I got ready and got in the seat, Uncle Orv gave the sign and we were off. As I looked out over the wings that were carrying us up and the ground that was falling away, I just realized we were in midair.... We flew around up over the hilltops and the trees, over the trees and telephone poles, and went around the field several times.

As one of the circuits of the field ended, Orville pointed to the oncoming train and asked if they should take that one back to the city. In response to Ivonette's nod, Orville landed the plane with just enough time to catch the interurban. [51]

Amid all these events, Wilbur and Orville continued to operate The Wright Company and prepare for the patent suit pending against Glenn H. Curtiss. Wilbur spent the majority of his time focused on litigation, while Orville continued to focus on supervising the engineering at The Wright Company factory. In March 1911, Wilbur traveled to France in connection with patent suits filed by the French Wright Company. Beginning with this trip, Wilbur spent much of the next year traveling in connection with the various patent suits the company had filed. Upon his return to the United States in August, Wilbur frequently traveled between New York and Dayton because of the patent suits. In fact, William Conover, an employee of the Wrights, believed that between 1909 and 1912 the total time Wilbur spent in the factory added up to less than a month. The constant travel away from home and legal pressures took their toll on Wilbur. For the next several months, he was lacking energy and good health. [52]

In October 1911, Orville returned to Kitty Hawk for the first time since 1908 to conduct experiments with an automatic control device. This device, for which the Wrights applied for a patent on February 8, 1908, allowed the airplane to keep flying straight without the pilot intervening. Alec Ogilvie of England, Lorin, and Lorin's son Horace traveled with Orville. While the presence of a group of newspaper reporters prevented Orville from experimenting with the stabilizer, he did conduct some soaring experiments. After the short trip, Orville returned to Dayton to continue managing operations at The Wright Company. [53]

In 1911, Charlie Taylor, who had worked for the Wrights since 1901, left the employ of the Wrights to serve as Calbraith Perry Rodgers' mechanic on his transcontinental flight. Charlie accepted the position which paid ten dollars a day plus expenses, for it was a higher salary than the twenty-five dollars a week he made working at The Wright Company. Orville requested that Charlie remain with The Wright Company, but since Charlie had officially accepted Rodgers' offer, he felt he must honor his obligation. Orville suggested that they treat Charlie's departure as a leave of absence so he could return to the company. [54]

Wilbur was also disappointed to see Charlie leave The Wright Company. In a rare instance of sharing his emotions in a letter, Wilbur wrote,

It is not quite as though you have left Orville and me personally, but yet I confess that I feel a little hurt that you should have left while I was away and without having spoken to me of your intention. We had been together so long that I had not intended that you should ever have to seek employment elsewhere in your declining years.

The close association between the brothers and their mechanic would not be forgotten by Wilbur. If Charlie ever needed a friend, Wilbur and Orville would never forget the years between the three of them. [55]

During Rodgers' transcontinental flight, Charlie took care of the plane each night and made the necessary mechanical repairs. During the day, he traveled on a train that accompanied the flight. Prior to the start of the flight, the Taylor family moved to California to await Charlie's arrival. Near the end of Rodgers' flight, Mrs. Taylor became ill, and Charlie quit his position to be with her. Due to Mrs. Taylor's illness, the family stayed in California for a year while she recuperated. In the spring of 1912, Charlie began working for Roy Knabenshue, the former manager of The Wright Company exhibition team. Since Charlie was in California due to his wife's health, the Wrights felt they would rather see him working than unemployed. Upon Charlie's resignation as manager of the machine shop, the Wrights placed Mr. Elliot in charge. [56]

In 1909 Wilbur, Orville, and Katharine began planning to build a new home. It was a hard decision to leave 7 Hawthorne Street, but the Wrights felt that the neighborhood was changing for the worse. The brothers purchased property in Dayton View at the intersection of Salem Avenue and Harvard Boulevard [57] on March 28, 1910. Katharine felt this lot was too close to the center of the city, and she suggested purchasing property on a wooded lot. Wilbur and Orville finally agreed to a different location, and in February 1912 they purchased a seventeen-acre lot in the town of Oakwood, just south of Dayton. The site was located at the intersection of Park Drive and Harmon Avenue on a wooded hill. [58]

Wilbur and Orville hired the Dayton architectural firm of Schenck & Williams to prepare plans based on the Wright brothers' specifications. The three Wright children planned the home together. Wilbur's opinions were recorded in a letter to Katharine from France where he reported that he believed the plans contained too much hall space, but he was not particular about the design as long as he had his own bathroom. In fact, Wilbur would have preferred a smaller home. With so much hall space, he joked, they would have to get a maid just for the hallways. [59]

Wilbur returned from a trip to Boston on May 2. During the trip Wilbur was ill, and while he was healthier, his family noted he was still not himself. On the afternoon of his return, he, Orville, and Katharine, along with their nephew Milton, went on a picnic at the site of their new home. That evening, Wilbur complained of a fever, and the family called Dr. D.B. Conklin. Dr. Conklin diagnosed Wilbur with malarial fever. The fever did not stop Wilbur from going to the Huffman Prairie Flying Field on May 4, 1912, or writing a letter to Frederick Fish, The Wright Company patent attorney. But this activity proved too much for Wilbur, and his father recorded in his diary that Wilbur suffered from a high fever on the evening of May 4, and he called Dr. Conklin once again. As the fever progressed, Dr. Conklin began thinking that Wilbur suffered from typhoid fever instead of malaria. [60]

Wilbur developed full blown typhoid fever over the next several days. Wilbur, knowing that his health was failing, sent for Ezra Kuhns, a lawyer who was Orville's high school classmate. With Kuhns as the witness, Wilbur dictated his will to Mabel Beck, his secretary, who formerly worked for Knabenshue when he managed the exhibition team. [61]

Wilbur continued to fight the fever, and assured that his brother was in no immediate danger, Orville left for Washington on May 16 to deliver an airplane. When his brother fell unconscious two days later, Orville immediately returned to Dayton to be at his bedside. Dr. Conklin and Dr. Spitler, the physician who treated Orville's bout with typhoid in 1896, prescribed opiates to treat the fever. When Wilbur's condition failed to improve, the two doctors called in a specialist from Cincinnati. [62]

To assist in caring for Wilbur, the family hired two nurses. Miss Nellie Sullivan was the first nurse they hired, and she was followed shortly thereafter by Miss Marie Sheets. The two nurses worked eight-hour shifts. Miss Sullivan shared the information that Wilbur was rarely conscious, but during her shifts she could revive him to take nourishment and medicine through a medicine dropper. [63]

Wilbur's prognosis continued to go up and down. Some days he appeared to be better and, then the following day, he would be worse. As Wilbur's illness progressed and his condition became more grave, the citizens of Dayton carefully followed the state of his health in the local newspapers. Detailed reports including Wilbur's temperature, respiration, and pulse appeared in articles informing people of the city's hero. [64]

By May 27, the family believed that Wilbur was near death. Both Conklin and Spitler arrived early in the morning and spent most of the day at the house. Reuchlin, who had traveled from Kansas, saw Wilbur in the afternoon, and Milton, believing his son was very near death, slept with his clothes on that night. Wilbur continued to grow worse, and at 3:15 in the morning on May 30, 1912, he passed away. [65] Milton recorded his thoughts on the death of his son in his diary:

A short life, full of consequences. An unfailing intellect, imperturable [sic] temper, great selfreliance [sic] and as great modesty, seeing the right clearly, pursuing it steadily, he lived and died. [66]

Over a thousand condolences were received at the Wright home, and the news of Wilbur's death brought many tributes in newspapers throughout the world. At forty-five, Wilbur had lived a relatively short life, but his achievement as co-inventor of the airplane was recognized worldwide.

Wilbur's funeral and burial was on June 1. His body laid in state at the First Presbyterian Church at the corner of Ludlow and Second Streets from ten in the morning until one o'clock in the afternoon. All who wished to view the body were guaranteed admittance. Many thousands of people stood in line at the church and a constant flow of individuals passed by the body to pay their last respects to the man who with his brother solved the problem of human flight. [67]

The funeral began at the church at three o'clock, and it was open to the public. The Dayton Journal reported that the family planned a quiet and simple ceremony in keeping with Wilbur's tastes and personality. Reverend Maurice E. Wilson, pastor of the church, officiated at the short funeral. He read the hymn "Oh, God, Our Help in Ages Past," an entry from the Presbyterian Book of Forms, and several scriptures including the twenty-third Psalm. The service ended with a brief sermon by Reverend Wilson on the many admirable qualities of the deceased. [68]

The honorary pallbearers for the service were Robert J. Collier, Charles Jerome Edwards, Russell A. Alger, Fred Alger, John H. Patterson, Honorable James M. Cox, Dr. Levy Spitler, and Dr. D.B. Conklin. Those bearing the casket were two representatives each from the Dayton Aeroplane Club, Ten Dayton Boys, and The Wright Company: Oscar J. Needham and Frank B. Hale represented the Dayton Aeroplane Club; Charles Olinger and Edgar W. Ellis the Ten Dayton Boys; and Arthur Gabel and James Jacobs The Wright Company. [69]

Evidence of the respect the citizens and business community of Dayton had for Wilbur was visible throughout the city the day of his funeral. The flags at The National Cash Register Company were at half mast for the day and a notice of Wilbur's death and a portrait were posted on all the bulletin boards throughout the company. The Chamber of Commerce requested that all retail establishments close from 3:30 to 4:00 p.m. and that citizens cease all activity for that time. In addition, all the church bells in the city rang from 3:30 to 3:35 p.m. and the street and interurban cars as well as the railroad trains stopped out of respect for the memory of Wilbur. During those five minutes, telephone service in the city also ceased. [70]

funeral procession
(Courtesy of William Mayfield Collection, Marvin Christian Photography)

Immediately after the services, the family, pallbearers, and close family friends traveled in twenty-five carriages to Woodland Cemetery for the grave side service. As Wilbur's body and those going to the cemetery traveled through the streets, they were observed by throngs of people who lined the two-mile route. At the grave, side still more people waited for the family. The grave side service was very short, consisting of a prayer and benediction. At the completion of the service, flowers were dropped on the casket as it was lowered into the ground. [71]

The day following the services, Ezra Kuhns came to the Wright home to read Wilbur's last will and testament. Wilbur's estate was eventually valued by the Montgomery County Probate Court at $279,298.40. The first beneficiary listed in the will was Wilbur's father. Wilbur thanked Milton for his "example of a courageous, upright life, and for his earnest sympathy with everything tending to my true welfare" and bequeathed to him the sum of $1,000 for "little unusual expenditures as might add to his comfort and pleasure." [72]

The bulk of Wilbur's estate, the sum of $150,000, was divided equally among Reuchlin, Lorin, and Katharine. The remainder of the estate, including the patents and jointly held stock in the Wright Company, went to Orville. Wilbur felt that Orville, "who has been associated with me in all the hopes and labors both of childhood and manhood, and who, I am sure, will use the property in very much the same manner as we would use it together in case we would both survive until old age." [73]

As the executor, Orville distributed Wilbur's various bequeaths. The only problem he experienced was with Reuchlin who returned $1,000 of the $50,000 to his father. Many years earlier, Reuchlin had distanced himself from the family by moving to Kansas, and he felt he should not receive the same amount as Lorin and Katharine. Reuchlin believed that if Wilbur had had more time to consider the various bequeaths in his will that he would have done it differently. Milton returned the $1,000 to Reuchlin with the comment, "Everyone of us wants it carried out in every particular, as if it were sacred Writ....Orville regards the will as if sacred, and will carry it out precisely." [74]

In a few short years, Orville went from achieving international recognition for his and Wilbur's invention to a life without his brother and partner. In 1908 Wilbur's demonstration flights in France and Orville's in Washington, D.C., finally brought the brothers credit for their invention, five years after their initial success. Wilbur and Orville's lives changed after 1908. They were frequently away from Dayton with their obligations for demonstration flights or in regards to their patent infringement litigation against Glenn Curtiss. Their formerly quiet lives were frequently filled with meetings, celebrations, events, flights, and management of The Wright Company.

With Wilbur's death, Orville was forced to continue without his partner. Milton believed that Orville and Katharine felt the loss of their brother most of all the family members. In response to their loss, they dedicated themselves to each other and the patent litigation. With Wilbur no longer part of the team, Orville focused his energy on the battles that Wilbur had been fighting by becoming more involved in the patent suits, and he also became more involved in the daily operations and business side of The Wright Company. Katharine whole-heartedly supported her youngest brother, just as she had both brothers. Orville learned to function without his lifelong partner and filled some of the voids by further depending upon his sister. [75]


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

honious/chap9.htm — 18-Feb-2004