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.
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
Wright-related items at The Engineers Club of Dayton
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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 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
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.
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.
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.