What Dreams We Have
The Wright Brothers and Their Hometown of Dayton, Ohio
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Ann Honious, a historian for the National Park Service, has been given the challenging assignment of writing yet another book about the Wright brothers. The task was difficult because Wilbur and Orville Wright were already about as well documented as anyone could be in their era of history.

Early on, when the brothers began to work seriously on the problem of flight, Octave Chanute encouraged them to keep careful records of what they were doing. Mr. Chanute's recommendation merely strengthened a predilection that was already there. Wilbur and Orville were careful and methodical workers by nature, and fortunately they had an inherent family trait of never throwing anything away if it had any conceivable value.

So historians have available a huge treasure trove of notebooks, journals, photographs, letters and personal memorabilia belonging to the Wrights, as well as countless newspaper accounts and journal articles, written by their contemporaries as the Wrights' fame spread. Succeeding generations have added computer analog analyses, wind tunnel tests, construction of replicas and other research studies to develop more information about their lives and work.

This rich historical store has already generated much literature about the Wrights, some of it apocryphal, of course. There are excellent major historical, technical and biographical works, however, by writers such as Fred Kelly, Marvin McFarland, Tom Crouch, Fred Howard, Charles Gibbs-Smith, Howard Wolko, Alfred Gollin and Arthur Renstrom.

In view of all of this, what is left for a historian to write about? Fortunately, Ann Honious has a fine sense of history, and for some months she has been happily ensconced in a small office on the second floor at 22 South Williams Street in Dayton, Ohio. Wilbur and Orville Wright moved their bicycle shop and their printing office into this building in 1895 so they could combine both of their commercial businesses under one roof. It was here that they began manufacturing their own brands of bicycles, and it was during this period that they read about the death of Otto Lilienthal and started their serious study of human flight.

The brothers had only to walk out the back door on Williams Street and go a short half block south through the alley to reach 7 Hawthorne Street, the house where Orville and Katharine had been born, and where Wilbur died in 1912. Just north of the shop, facing on Third Street, was the Hoover Block, the building that had housed Wright & Wright, Job Printers, from 1890 till 1895.

In 1897, the brothers moved their shop around the corner and onehalf block west to 1127 West Third Street, where they maintained their Wright Company offices even after they had phased out their bicycle and printing businesses in favor of flying machines. Orville stayed on there after Wilbur's death until he built his laboratory in 1916. It was another half block further west and just around the corner at 15 North Broadway. And Orville's friend and classmate, the renowned poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, had lived several blocks farther west on Summit Street.

So after the family moved back to Dayton in 1884, those few blocks in West Dayton were Wilbur and Orville's neighborhood home for the rest of their lives. They tested their aircraft over the sands of Kitty Hawk and the marshy ground of Huffman Prairie; they traveled abroad; they flew in Washington, D.C., and France and Italy and Germany; they dined in European palaces and had lunch at the White House; but they always came back to the modest frame house on the West Side.

Even after he had built his new home, Hawthorn Hill, in Oakwood, Orville returned to work in his old neighborhood six days a week (never on Sunday) until his death in 1948. Famous visitors like Hap Arnold, Charles Lindbergh, Henry Ford, Edward Deeds and Charles Kettering called on him there in the office and workshop at 15 North Broadway.

Ann Honious has worked in that neighborhood, has absorbed its atmosphere, and has written another book about the Wrights. She has not left out the bold experiments, the epic decisions or the courageous actions that changed the world. But she has carefully set these historymaking events in a matrix of factual details, in the context of their family life, their personal friendships, their domestic chores, their small business enterprises and their daily work. In short she has placed them in the neighborhood where they lived and died, providing Dayton's new national historical park with a valuable resource that describes, explains and celebrates the lives of Wilbur and Orville Wright and their friend, Paul Laurence Dunbar. The literature about the Wrights is richer for it.

Wilkinson Wright
January 1998


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

honious/foreword.htm — 18-Feb-2004