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Deeds persisted in numerous ways to keep the project on track when others grew weary and gave up. The Conservancy District, with its series of dams and river improvements, has proven to be enormously successful in preventing floods since 1913, thanks primarily to the determination and personal contributions of E.A. Deeds.
Wartime Chief of Aircraft Production
Deeds was very interested in aviation, even building what was claimed to be the first private airport at his home in Moraine. He purchased the land that would become McCook Field because Orville Wright told him it was a good place to land an airplane. And while head of the Miami Conservancy District, Deeds leased Huffman Prairie to the Army, creating Wilbur Wright Field, forerunner to Wright Patterson Air Force Base. He also helped to found the Dayton Wright Airplane Company with Orville Wright, who was to say that Deeds was the most able man he knew.
In 1917, the United States entered World War I and Deeds resigned from DELCO and entered the Army as Colonel and Chief of Aircraft Production. In this role, he oversaw the design and production of the Liberty engine for American warplanes. Deeds also directed Army aircraft research to McCook and Wright Fields in Dayton, a decision which is still providing an economic benefit to the Miami Valley today.
NCR Once More
When NCR was near collapse in 1931, Deeds - who was now on 28 corporate boards and a well-known businessman throughout American industry - returned to take NCR from a family-owned business to a modern corporation with professional management. He took risks, backing the move to business machines that not only stored money but also compiled inventory and accounting information.
During World War II, Deeds led NCR to undertake the successful project led by Joe Desch to crack the Enigma code used by the Germans to communicate to their submarine fleet. This work by Desch and his team led to machines that were the forerunners of the modern computer. But NCR stayed with electro-mechanical machines to product their market while IBM and other competitors grew. Deeds ultimately turned over the daily operation of NCR to Stanley Allyn and retired as Chairman of NCR in 1957.
Edward Deeds demonstrated a great love for Dayton and its citizens over his career. While he certainly benefitted financially from his business endeavors, he would consistently bring enterprises and their resulting employment to the Miami Valley. And his tireless work on the Conservancy District was an significant contribution of effort that rewarded him only with the satisfaction of its achievement.
But in addition to the Engineers Club and Miami Conservancy District building, Deeds and his wife Edith Walton Deeds also contributed a great deal of their wealth to the community, most notably the Deeds Carillon along the Miami River which was completed in 1942. They also contributed numerous historical displays at that site.
Edith Deeds died in 1949 while Edward Deeds lived until 1960, dying at the age of 87. Throughout those years, Deeds was an able man who made things work.
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Bill Ritchie is Principal of Customer Chain Consulting LLC, based in Dayton, Ohio. He has long been interested in the history of Dayton, particularly the men who developed its industrial base in the early 20th century. This article came from a talk he gave to the Barn Gang at the Engineers Club in January 2009.