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“Isn’t it astonishing that all these secrets have been preserved for  so many years just so we could discover them!”

—Orville Wright

The Wright Brothers ~ In Flight includes 1908-1909 flights in the United States, France and Italy – as well as the first motion pictures taken from an airplane. Motion pictures helped convince early skeptics that human flight was real. © 2009 Martel Art. Credits

Orville Wright—Co-Inventor of Powered Flight

Shy prankster, inveterate tinker, always dapper —Orville Wright  helped invent powered flight, then lived to see the supersonic age. After his brother Wilbur’s untimely death, Orville made significant contributions to aviation on his own. The quiet, reserved Wright Brother found lifelong peers at the Engineers Club.

By Mark Martel

 

The invention of powered flight ranks as Dayton’s greatest innovation. The Wright brothers solved multiple problems in the process, including developing the first three-axis controls, finding the best wing shape for lift, designing highly-efficient propellers, and, with their mechanic, creating a lightweight engine (see below). As many writers have noted, the Wrights accomplished all of this in their spare time, over the course of ten years, and for under $1000 of their own money. See the Wright brothers’ original patent for the Flying Machine.

 

Because the Wrights’ story is already so well told we have chosen not to “reinvent” it. For the best web resources on the development of flight please see the related links and resources.

 

Orville Wright maintained a long-running association with the Engineers Club of Dayton, an organization that fostered connections and camaraderie among Dayton’s innovators. Orville’s early membership, along with other prominent Daytonians, immediately elevated the club’s prominence and long-term significance for the city.

 

Tragically, Wilbur Wright died in 1912 at age 45, just a few short years after becoming world-famous. The founding of the Engineers Club was still two years off. Orville (the brother with the mustache) outlived his elder brother by 36 years, and was an Engineers Club member from 1914 until his death in 1948.

 

Orville Wright made significant contributions to aviation on his own. In 1913 he demonstrated an automatic stabilization system for which he was awarded the Collier Trophy. In the early twenties he developed the split-wing flap, which helped prevent airplane stalls and made dive-bombing possible. Orville also designed a number of children’s toys, including a toy airplane on display at the Engineer’s Club.

 

Read more about Orville Wright by Dayton aviation historian Mary Ann Johnson[PDF]

 

Orville Wright  and the Engineers Club In 1914 Edward Deeds and Charles Kettering set out to create the Engineers Club of Dayton. The pair had struck it rich by founding Delco, while the city had just suffered the Great 1913 flood. They soon approached Orville Wright to become a member of the new organization. Despite Orville’s intense shyness and dislike of public appearances he quickly joined his peers.

 

Orville’s added prestige helped the new club attract more members and foster connections with the coming presence of military aviation in Dayton. He also lent his name to the Dayton Wright Airplane Company, formed by local investors who included the Engineers Club founders, Edward Deeds and Charles Kettering.

 

Of the few public speeches given by Orville Wright, significantly two occurred at the Engineers Club. At a February 2, 1918 banquet, Major Orville Wright (World War I was then being fought) received the keys to the newly opened building on behalf of the Club. To quote a 1942 brochure, Orville “expressed the thanks of the officers and members, and further, he emphasized the responsibility of the membership, present and future, which their acceptance implied.”

 

Orville also “broke precedent” earlier at the Club, introducing a speaker in 1917. You can hear him speak briefly in a video along with Deeds and Kettering in 1935. Orville is listed as second vice-president during the building’s opening, and later served as the fourth Club president in 1924-1925.

 

One of his other favorite haunts was the Engineers Club barbershop, located in 1925 off the upstairs porch. Orville was always a snappy dresser, so a frequent shave and haircut would have been expected. A window of the barbershop overlooked the river and McCook airfield beyond. From this vantage point Orville could keep up on the latest in aviation, since McCook Field, the predecessor to Wright Patterson Air Force Base, was the original research & development site for military aviation. In fact the Engineers Club became an unofficial officers club for the aviators after the First World War.

 

In 1940 as World War II progressed, the German aerial bombardment of London made clear the destructive power of airplanes. A Dayton reporter got Orville to comment on the record, which was reprinted in England. Orville forecast that future generations would know the airplane as an instrument of peace. Read the full article by journalist Maxwell Nathan.

 

Wright-related items at The Engineers Club of Dayton

 

Wright Engine No. 3

Wright Engine Number 3 is on permanent display, bequeathed to the Club in Orville Wright’s will. Engine No. 3 was used for stationary tests between 1904 and 1906. It was last used to power a hydrofoil the Wright brothers tested on the Great Miami River near the Main Street Bridge in 1907. Although the Wright engines included  aluminum crankcases, they were painted a uniform black to look like cast iron and thus mislead rivals. The black paint also made the engines very difficult to photograph, again helping protect their innovations. Read the PDF for details.

 

Wright B Flyer  

Read about the making of a new Wright “B” Flyer in the 1970s, the idea of longtime Engineers Club members Tom Sheetz and Chuck Dempsey.  Newsletter reprints from 1975 and 1984 tell how  Mr. Dempsey helped direct the project with John Warlick, Hubie Miller, and the help of 600 volunteers. The aircraft continues to fly, thanks to current Club members like John Bosch and Walt Hoy. Mr. Hoy recently directed the building of a modular “B in a Box” that is suitable for shipping long distance at an affordable cost.

 

Other displays in the Engineers Club include framed pages from the Wright Airplane Co. catalog ($5000 bought an airplane), recreated wind tunnel models, and scale models of the Wright propellors which are near the engine display. The dining room entryway features large photo prints of the Wrights flying publicly, and a wing cross-section in spruce hangs over the doors. Orville also designed kid’s model airplanes, mounted on the back wall of the reception desk on the main floor.

 

Wright Room  

Formerly the Ivory room, the west end of the first floor began as a game room with pool and billiards tables for the men only. Today the Wright Room hosts medium size gatherings, talks and lunches. The walls feature Wright photos and downstairs in the Pub is a copy of Pilot License Number One, presented to Orville Wright long after he had earned his wings.

 

Orville’s Table

While the gregarious Charles Kettering dined at a crowded, large roundtable near the entrance, Orville Wright chose a secluded table for two in the rear, near the kitchen door. A Plaque marks the table’s location. (Deeds sat anywhere.)

 

Outdoor Sculptures

The sculpture of the 1905 Wright Flyer  III, “the world’s first practical airplane”, was installed in 2001 on land then owned by Wright State University, adjacent to the Engineers Club property on the east. Note the perforated wings, necessary to keep the sculpture from generating too much lift!

 

The front walkway of the Engineers Club facing the river features a simple bench.  Two simple bowler hats leave the impression the Wrights have just stepped away for a moment.

 

A more playful Wright-inspired wind vane tops a building in RiverScape MetroPark across the street. The park also features an extensive Inventors Walk celebrating other Dayton innovators.

 

 

Photo of Wilbur Wright Courtesy of Special Image Collections, Wright State  University

Valley of the Giants - Orville Wright

Wright Family Oral Histories

Courtesy of Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park

 

Marianne Miller Hudec

The Wright brothers’ grandniece shares her memories of Orville Wright, as well as recollections of Wilbur and Orville Wright passed down by her mother Ivonette Wright Miller.

 

George Russel

The Wright brothers’ grandnephew remembers “Uncle Orv’s” pranks and teasing.

 

Milton Wright

The Wrights’ grandnephew describes life at Hawthorn Hill, and Orville Wright’s various household inventions. He recalls the Engineers Club 1935 film recording with Orville speaking, as well as Orville’s friendship with Kettering and Deeds.

 

Susan Wright

Mrs. Horace Wright recalls Christmas at Hawthorn Hill and early days in Dayton, Ohio.

 

Wick Wright 1995

Wilbur and Orville’s grandnephew and family spokesperson describes the Wrights’ family life.

 

Wick Wright 1996

Wick Wright recalls Hawthorn Hill employees, menus, the toy factory, the inception of Aviation Trail, and more.

 

Wright Family: The Wrights’ Time to Fly

The Wright brothers’ niece, Ivonette Wright Miller, her husband Harold Miller, Horace Wright, and Sue Wright describe Wilbur and Orville Wright’s characteristics and thought processes that helped them invent the airplane.

 

Wright Family: The Family Remembers Huffman Prairie

The Wrights’ family members share family remembrances of Wilbur and Orville Wrights’ early flights at Huffman Prairie near Dayton, Ohio.

Inventing Flight. Video courtesy of ThinkTV’s Our Ohio, with support from the Ohio Humanities Council.

    Orville Wright

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Recommended Resources

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Wright Family Oral Histories

Dayton Aviation Heritage NPS

 

The Wright Brothers Dayton

Think TV

 

1935 Film >>

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edward Deeds, Charles Kettering, and  Orville Wright. Deeds and “Boss Kett” chat in the Engineers Club, with a brief cameo by the reclusive Wright brother in this 1935 film clip. Courtesy of the NCR archive at Dayton History.

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Wilbur Wright

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