The Wright Brothers, Personal Remembrances
best scientists throughout history had tried to solve the riddle
of controlled powered flight and failed. Yet Orville and Wilbur
Wright from Dayton, Ohio found the answer.
They were blessed with uncommon mechanical ability and intelligence.
But it was their strength of character and firmness of purpose
that gave them the self-confidence to march to their own drummer.
They were comfortable with being different, some say even peculiar.
These characteristics helped them to examine the problems of
flight in new and original ways.
died before I was born. I was fortunate to observe some of Orville's
unique ways while I was growing up. I lived in Oakwood, a city
neighboring Dayton, Ohio. Orville, during his later years, lived
in Oakwood in a home he built at Hawthorn Hill.
remembrance about him was when as a youngster in 1940, I heard
that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was coming to town
on a campaign tour for his third election bid. I heard that
the president would be touring through Oakwood in an open limousine
with Orville as his guest. With great expectation, I rode my
bicycle the nearly two miles to the site that the motorcade
motorcade came by with Roosevelt waving at the crowd, but to
my disappointment there was no Orville. It wasn't until years
later that I found out why.
The 35-car motorcade had traveled 34 miles through the streets
of Dayton to cheering crowds before they entered the city of
Oakwood. As they drove through Oakwood, Orville tapped the driver
on the shoulder and told him to pull over. Orville got out of
the car, shook hands with President Roosevelt, and walked about
a mile to his home at Hawthorn Hill. It may have been he was
tired of the crowds or it may have been because he was a Republican.
High School, that I attended, was only two blocks from Hawthorn
Hill, and Orville would sometimes pass by the school on his
way to downtown Dayton where he had his laboratory. His license
plates were OW-1. Orville
liked to drive fast (also his boat housed on Lambert Island, Ontario) and
he routinely ignored the City of Oakwood
speed limit. The Oakwood police, however, never stopped him.
It was reported that they just crossed their fingers, hoping that he
wouldn't have an accident. They had good reason to be concerned,
Orville didn't believe in carrying insurance.
Orville died on January 30, 1948 when I was a junior in high
school. All the schools in Dayton were closed on the day of
his funeral. I took advantage of the opportunity to attend the
viewing because I considered him the man of the century.
After his death, our high school class was able to tour his
home on several occasions. Orville had made a number of interesting innovations in
the home. One of the most unusual I observed was in the bathroom.
In the shower, was a series of showerheads at waist level arranged
to spray water on his back. This was for the purpose of easing
back pain that plagued him after his near fatal airplane crash
at Ft. Myers, Virginia in 1908.
Also in the bathroom, I notice an unusual toilet seat. The shape
of the seat was shaped to exactly match the contour of the buttocks.
The comfortable seat may also have been for the relief of back
Beneath the bathroom floor, Orville had installed protective
shields to prevent any leaks from staining the ceiling below.
I was told that Orville did all of his own plumbing.
a family reunion in Dayton,
I found out that relatives of mine had interviewed Orville
for the Wilbur Wright high school newspaper. I knew that Orville did not like
most reporters, so I asked them about their experience.
They said that they approached the doorbell with apprehension. Carrie, Orville's maid answered the door and said that
Orville didn't give interviews.
But, just as they turned to leave, Orville came to the door.
It turned out that he was very gracious and accommodating and
gave them the interview. That was another facet of Orville's
personality. Orville liked young people. That made the difference.
my family shared the same dentist, Dr. Theodore E. Lilly.
Orville told Dr. Lilly that contrary to the anti-sugar campaign,
he had fewer cavities during the years he ate a lot of candy.
relative remembered sitting on Wilbur's lap at a local store
when she was only three years old. The store was located across
the street from the Wright Brother's bicycle shop on West Third
fraternity brother related the story of his boss at NCR being
sent to deliver something to Orville at his home on Hawthorn
Hill. Orville answered the door with his sleeves rolled up and
dirty hands. Orville invited him in and proceeded to the kitchen
where he had dismantled the refrigerator. The parts were
scattered around on the floor.
great-great-grandfather built and lived in the oldest building
at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. His name was Henry E. Hebble
and he built the house shortly after he migrated from Pennsylvania
The house (building 8) is within sight of Huffman Prairie where the Wright
Brothers established a flying field in 1904. The residents of
the house could observe the flying activities. The Southern
edge of the field is defined by Hebble Creek Road.
Hap Arnold learned to fly under the tutorage of Orville Wright
at Huffman Prairie along with 118 other pilots. Arnold later
became General of the Air Force during World War II and
the Air Force's only 5-star general.
The house became the Commanding Officer's quarters in 1921 and
General Arnold was one of its residents (1929-1931). One of
his guests was Orville Wright. In 1984, the house was converted
into the Heritage Center for Wright-Patterson AFB and dedicated
as the Arnold House in 1986.
Henry's son, Zebulon, who was my great grandfather, became the Mayor of Fairfield, which later became
the current Fairborn, Ohio, located adjacent to Wright-Patterson
AFB. The city hall is located on Hebble Street.
of Henry's sons, William, was an owner of the property that the
Foulois House (building 88) now sits on at WPAFB.
"Inventing Flight" celebration in Dayton, I was
fortunate to speak to John Glenn on three occasions.
is a member of the First Flight Society, Wright "B" Flyer Club
and a former U.S. Park Service volunteer at the Wright Brothers' Memorial
in Kill Devil Hills, NC. He received a volunteer of the year
award from the governor of NC in 2003.
BSME University of Cincinnati; MBA & Ph.D. The Ohio