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The Wright Company

From Invention to Industry

By Ed Roach

Publication Year: 2014

Fresh from successful flights before royalty in Europe, and soon after thrilling hundreds of thousands of people by flying around the Statue of Liberty, in the fall of 1909 Wilbur and Orville Wright decided the time was right to begin manufacturing their airplanes for sale. Backed by Wall Street tycoons, including August Belmont, Cornelius Vanderbilt III, and Andrew Freedman, the brothers formed the Wright Company. The Wright Company trained hundreds of early aviators at its flight schools, including Roy Brown, the Canadian pilot credited with shooting down Manfred von Richtofen — the “Red Baron”— during the First World War; and Hap Arnold, the commander of the U.S. Army Air Forces during the Second World War. Pilots with the company’s exhibition department thrilled crowds at events from Winnipeg to Boston, Corpus Christi to Colorado Springs. Cal Rodgers flew a Wright Company airplane in pursuit of the $50,000 Hearst Aviation Prize in 1911.

But all was not well in Dayton, a city that hummed with industry, producing cash registers, railroad cars, and many other products. The brothers found it hard to transition from running their own bicycle business to being corporate executives responsible for other people’s money. Their dogged pursuit of enforcement of their 1906 patent — especially against Glenn Curtiss and his company — helped hold back the development of the U.S. aviation industry. When Orville Wright sold the company in 1915, more than three years after his brother’s death, he was a comfortable man — but his company had built only 120 airplanes at its Dayton factory and Wright Company products were not in the U.S. arsenal as war continued in Europe.

Edward Roach provides a fascinating window into the legendary Wright Company, its place in Dayton, its management struggles, and its effects on early U.S. aviation.

Published by: Ohio University Press

Title Page, Frontispiece, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

More than a century after his untimely death from typhoid fever, Wilbur Wright remains a famous man. His younger brother Orville, who died an elderly man in 1948, is also internationally famous. During the summer of 2012, Wikipedias in eighty-five different languages, from English and German to Kalmyk, Papiamento, and Võro, contained articles (of varying lengths) about...

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pp. xiii-xiv

This book began as a revision of an unsubmitted 1989 National Historic Landmark nomination for the Wright Company’s factory buildings in west Dayton; over the past few years, it has evolved into a much larger project with a variety of supporters and assistants. The National Park Foundation provided a grant that supported the acquisition of a variety of primary and secondary...

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pp. 1-4

In west Dayton, Ohio, an empty factory complex quietly stands. Wedged between U.S. Route 35 and West Third Street, two of Dayton’s major roads, the site is similar to many other former industrial sites throughout the Rust Belt, awaiting redevelopment and new investment. The site, though, contains two buildings built when Dayton was an industrial powerhouse, a city famous...

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1. “We Will Devote . . . Our Time to Experimental Work”: Creating the Wright Company

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pp. 5-16

In 1905, nearly two years after their first four flights on the North Carolina coast, Wilbur and Orville Wright succeeded in developing what they deemed a practical airplane—one in which a pilot could take off and land repeatedly as long as it maintained a sufficient...

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2. Bringing an Aeroplane Factory to Dayton

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pp. 17-36

Nineteen hundred and nine, like most years, was full of important events. For the Cincinnati-born lawyer, judge, and former secretary of war William Howard Taft, it was his first year in the White House. The U.S. Mint introduced a cent bearing the portrait of...

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3. “A Substantial, Commodious, Thoroughly Modern Factory”: The Wright Company Enters the Market

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pp. 37-54

Aviation was a new industry, in Dayton and in the United States. The 1910 Statistical Abstract of the United States, issued by the federal Department of Commerce and Labor, unsurprisingly ignored the new field (which had no statistics worth recording). If...

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4. “Our Machines Are Sold on Their Merits”: Patents, Profits, and Controversy

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pp. 55-70

Though neither Wilbur nor Orville Wright would ever have the resources of a Rockefeller or a Vanderbilt, aviation brought them wealth. They made generous Christmas gifts to their brothers and sister, built the Boyd Building in west Dayton as a commercial...

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5. World Records for Wright Aviators: The Exhibition Department

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pp. 71-82

The Wright Company did not want its only appearances in the press and in the public imagination to be connected with its lawsuits. It hoped to attract positive press coverage (and drive sales) with its exhibition department, and so it hired young, daring, if...

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6. To Change or Not to Change: Creating New Airplanes and New Pilots

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pp. 83-112

Not only did the Wright Company lose a valuable revenue stream when its exhibition department closed, but also it lost a convenient way for its pilots to test new technologies and designs in the rough and tumble of field use before incorporating them...

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7. Turning Buyer Attention the Company Way: Advertising

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pp. 113-128

The Wright Company’s lack of commercial success was not the result of the sort of secrecy that the brothers demanded in the years before 1908. Hundreds of thousands of people saw their flights in New York and in Europe, and newspapers closely covered...

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8. Managing the Wrights’ Company

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pp. 129-154

Early Wright Company advertisements boasted that Wilbur and Orville Wright personally supervised the designing and building of “everything that enters into the construction of our machines” at the factory. For once, advertisements did not lie. The brothers...

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9. “It Is Something I Have Wanted to Do for Many Months”: Exit Orville

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pp. 155-174

Much had changed in the world and in Orville Wright’s life between 1909 and 1915. Europe was no longer a welcoming destination; trenches filled with soldiers divided Germany from Belgium and France. Ohio Republican William Howard Taft had been...

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Epilogue: The Wright Company’s Legacy

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pp. 175-180

Physically, the Wright Company left a slight legacy. Few of the airplanes its workers built remained intact, and its archives are dispersed and incomplete. Grover Bergdoll’s Model B, at the Franklin Institute, and a skeletal Model G exhibited by Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park are two of the most accessible Wright Company airplanes exhibited in museums. The...


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pp. 181-204


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pp. 205-212


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pp. 213-218

E-ISBN-13: 9780821444740
E-ISBN-10: 0821444743
Print-ISBN-13: 9780821420515
Print-ISBN-10: 0821420518

Page Count: 233
Illustrations: photographs
Publication Year: 2014

Edition: 1