The Fight to Preserve the Wright Brothers’ Legacy

The year was 1910, Wilbur and Orville Wright had opened up the first Wright Company factory building in their hometown of Dayton, Ohio. Just seven years after their pioneer flight at Kitty Hawk, the brothers had opened up the first building in the United States dedicated to manufacturing airplanes.

But after the untimely death of Wilbur Wright, Orville sold the factory just a few short years later in 1915. It eventually became part of a large auto-manufacturing complex. Today, over a century later, the two original Wright Company buildings are some of the only structures that are left standing.

The nonprofit National Aviation Heritage Alliance or NAHA, in cooperation with the state of Ohio, the City of Dayton, and the National Park Service, hope to raise the estimated $4 million that is needed by the end of the year in order to save the factory and make it a part of the Dayton Aviation Heritage National /Historical Park.

The Early Years of the Wright Brothers’ Careers

The Wright Brothers were entrepreneurs at heart, opening their own bicycle sales and repair shop in 1892. It was clear that they enjoyed everything that had to do with transportation. They even started to build their own bicycles later on. Wilbur and Orville also designed and built printing presses, using money they had saved up to fund their earliest experiments in aeronautics. In 1903, at their camp located near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, the Wright Brothers achieved a major breakthrough; the first powered, sustained and controlled airplane flight.

The Wright Company

There were many who doubted the Wright Brothers’ claim to success since many aviation pioneers had failed at their own attempts. But with their trials in Europe and the United States making headlines, the brothers had established themselves at the forefront of aviation by late 1909, when they first incorporated the Wright Company.

That following year, the brothers built the company’s first factory building located on West Third Street near Abbey Avenue in Dayton, close to their bicycle shop. They added a second building in 1911, and established a flying field as well as a flight school at Huffington Prairie, a pasture located near Dayton. Those who trained ta their facility included Henry H. “Hap” Arnold who would go on to command the U.S. Army Air Forces during WWII. Arnold also became the first general of the U.S. Air Force.

The Trying Times of Wilbur Wright

In 1909, Wilbur Wright decided to give up on flying and focused on business and legal activities, including the many lawsuits filed against rival aviation builders that the brothers felt had infringed on their patent rights. Although courts in France and the United States were on the Wright brother’s side, the defendants were able to avoid making any substantial payments. Exhausted from his efforts, and battling typhoid fever, Wilbur died in 1912 at the age of 45.

After Wilbur’s death, Orville assumed the leadership of the Wright Company. He ended up selling it in 1915 to a group of financers and later established his own Wright Aeronautical Library, hoping to concentrate on the scientific side of flying.

Orville devoted himself to defending his brother’s reputation as the inventors of the airplane. He lived to see the advent of jet propulsion and the first flight to break the sound barrier, among many other advancements in flying. He died in 1948.

The Future of the Original Wright Company Buildings

The original buildings for The Wright Company which were the first facilities in the country to manufacture airplanes, have become the centerpiece of the Delphi Home Avenue Plant. This 54-acre auto-manufacturing complex was shut down in 2008, and the entire site was razed. All except for a single row of structures which included the two original aviation factory buildings.

To honor the Wright brothers’ pioneering achievements, and celebrate Dayton’s reputation as the “birthplace of aviation,” the non-profit National Aviation Heritage Alliance (NAHA), an affiliate of the National Park Service, has been working with the state of Ohio, the city of Dayton and others to preserve the original Wright Company factory and ensure its place in history. NAHA is negotiating with the current property owner, Home Avenue Redevelopment LLC, to buy the 54-acre site, which would then become part of the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park.

At this time, the NAHA has raised around $2 million of the $4 million that is needed to purchase the property, fortify the buildings and start the redevelopment process. Out of that $2 million, the City of Dayton put down $500,000, and the State of Ohio put $1 million. Dayton, like many other cities in the Rust Belt, was hit hard by the disappearance of many manufacturing jobs throughout the late 20th century. Supports of the project hope that aviation tourism can help to bring in the additional money they need for it to be completed and the Wright Brother’s legacy preserved.