“People don’t think about what happened after many of our history books essentially stop on December 17, 1903, at 10:35, when for twelve seconds their first flight occurred,” she says.
“But the aviation industry developed from that point on. The years 1908 to 1910 were the busiest time in the Wright brothers’ lives. They are beginning to set up businesses in Europe, franchises if you will, they are building America’s first aircraft factory here in Dayton, they are setting up flying schools since as the first pilots no one else knows how to fly and you
have to train people.”
Lane recently offered a personal tour of Hawthorne House as British watch company Bremont unveiled its Wright Flyer in Dayton, with watch sale proceeds earmarked to benefit the house’s upkeep by the Wright Family Foundation and Wright Brothers USA.
Peppering her descriptions of the home and its contents with warm references to “Uncle Orv” and “Uncle Wil,” Lane shines new light on events that occurred after the pair’s famed first flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, which resulted from years of work nearby at their Dayton workshops.
Hawthorne House itself, built by the brothers in 1914 on seventeen acres, became the residence of Orville, his younger sister Katherine and their father Bishop Milton Wright. Tragically, Wilbur died in 1912 from typhoid fever just before construction commenced, so he never lived in the house he was instrumental in creating.
Perched on a hill in Dayton’s leafy Oakwood neighborhood, Hawthorne House is a National Historic Landmark within the National Aviation Heritage Area, a federally designated National Heritage Area consolidating more than fifteen aviation-related sites throughout Dayton. The house is open to visitors twice a week.
Lane began her tour just to the right of the spacious entryway that is flanked by a formal dining room at the left and a wide wood stairway straight ahead. Turning right, visitors spy a prominently displayed bronze sculpture, which we learn is called “Muse of Aviation,” made in 1909 by French artist Louis-Albert Calvin. At its base is a model of the Wright Flyer.
Amanda Wright Lane Following are excerpts from Lane’s tour of Hawthorne House.
“In 1908 the brothers landed the Wright Flyer III and didn’t fly for 2 1/2 years. They began a letter- writing campaign to the U.S. Army Signal Corps to ask if they were interested in their flying machine. The Corps replied that they were not interested in supporting their experimentation. The brothers wrote back that they were not doing experimentation, that it was the
final product. This went on for two years. They got discouraged and began to write to other countries.
“In two months they got two positive responses. One was from a group of French businessmen, and also, finally, from the Signal Corps, which asked to see what they brothers had. Wilbur went to France and Orville goes to Fort Myer, Virginia, and they both take a plane and a half. They both began their demonstrations about the same time, in August 1908, with Orville flying in front of military personnel but not too many [civilian] people.
“The French were a bit worried that if Wilbur did his demonstrations in the center of Paris that he would show up the young French engineers that were trying at the same time. Eventually, Leon Bollee, the ‘Henry Ford of Europe,’ invited Wilbur to his auto factory in Le Mans, France. On the first day, Wilbur took off and flew beautifully. He flew during each of the next few days and by the fourth day there were 10,000 people there after word had gotten back to Paris. People buggied, trained, walked, came by horse, to come see the young American fly.”
This was the first widespread acclaim for the Wright flyer and its promise to open up a world of aviation. “When they left in May, the French gave the brothers the French gave the brothers this sculpture because they felt like they had represented a new technology in a really wonderful and dignified way. It was, I think, the moment when aviation came to be, when each of these brothers did their demonstrations even though Uncle Orv crashed. The Corps of Engineers said they would take one Flyer. Exactly a year later Orville goes back to deliver the plane, the Number One Army Corps of Engineers, which is the number one airplane, period, now on display at the Smithsonian.”
Walking into Orville’s study, a room that is left in its original form as a testament to its original primary inhabitant, Lane continues:
“The study is as it was when Orville died. The wallpaper is not paper, it’s damask cloth and Uncle Orv made his own set of tools to remove it, which he did every year. He’d clean the fabric and then reapply it. He liked to tinker. This chair he drilled two holes into. He had lower back and hip problems after an accident. He liked to read with a reading stand and a dictionary, and he built a little wooden bookholder on one side of the chair so he could put his book on the reading stand and flip it, and also built a little holder on the other side of the chair to hold the dictionary.
“Uncle Orv messed with everything that had moving parts. If anything in it was mechanical, he had to take it apart, understand it, put it back together successfully, and sometimes modify it. He fooled with the electrical and plumbing in the house. One day he came in when they were putting on stain for the house and he didn’t like it, so he sent them all home and made his own stain and finished staining the house. He designed all the rugs in the house. He would send his design to an Irish carpet maker and they would make it for him.
“When things broke down in the house and Orville was away, and repairmen came to look at the problem, they would often say it’d have to wait until Mr. O. returned because they could not make hide nor hair of what he’d done to whatever it was.
“Their father, the bishop, was a missionary and traveled. He expected the brothers to write to him and tell him what was going on at home. One of the earliest letters we have says, ‘Dear father, I put a tin of water on the stove today and it bubbled over.’ The second sentence is, ‘The old cat is dead. Love, Orv.’ The letters are how we know everything that occurred
on the Outer Banks (at Kitty Hawk). As young adults they continued the letter writing.
And finally, regarding Hawthorne House. “We still have a lot of restoration work to do.”
See daytonhistory.org for details on how and when to visit Hawthorne House and all the aviation-related historical sites in Dayton.
By Michael Thompspn