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The Wright Company

The Wright Company: From Invention to Industry

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Ohio University Press
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  • Book Info
    The Wright Company
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-8214-4474-0
    Subjects: Transportation Studies, Business, Technology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xiii)
    (pp. 1-3)

    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 for its factories. These buildings, the former factory of the Wright Company, were the first buildings in the United States built specifically to house an incorporated airplane builder. Vacated by the Wright Company in 1916 and used as part of an...

  7. 1 “We Will Devote . . . Our Time to Experimental Work” Creating the Wright Company
    (pp. 5-15)

    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 fuel supply. On the fifth of October, Wilbur Wright flew nearly twenty-four miles (thirty-nine kilometers) in thirty-nine minutes, circling Huffman Prairie, outside Dayton, Ohio, and landing only when his airplane exhausted its fuel. Now satisfied with their invention’s practicality, and hoping to begin to turn a profit on it, the Wrights decided to end...

  8. 2 Bringing an Aeroplane Factory to Dayton
    (pp. 17-35)

    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 Abraham Lincoln, the first U.S. coin depicting a real person. Ida Wells Barnett, W. E. B. DuBois, and others formed the National Negro Committee, the immediate predecessor of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. And it was a banner year for the Wrights. Early in the year, the two brothers conducted dozens of...

  9. 3 “A Substantial, Commodious, Thoroughly Modern Factory” The Wright Company Enters the Market
    (pp. 37-53)

    Aviation was a new industry, in Dayton and in the United States. The 1910Statistical 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 Wright Company employees were going to build a substantial number of airplanes, they needed an appropriate facility in which to do so. With a wingspan of thirty-nine feet, the Model B, the company’s principal production aircraft of 1910, required a large, open area for ease of assembly. Other aircraft companies would repurpose existing industrial buildings. Glenn Curtiss used his...

  10. 4 “Our Machines Are Sold on Their Merits” Patents, Profits, and Controversy
    (pp. 55-69)

    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 investment, and built an expansive new mansion, Hawthorn Hill, in the wealthy Dayton suburb of Oakwood, to which Orville moved with his father and sister in 1914. Together they received a $50,000 share of a $100,000 corporate profit as the company’s 1910 fiscal year ended, the equivalent of nearly $2.4 million in 2011. During its existence, the Wright Company’s...

  11. 5 World Records for Wright Aviators The Exhibition Department
    (pp. 71-81)

    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 not foolhardy men as company pilots to demonstrate the capabilities of Wright Company airplanes before the public at fairs and other events. It used the department’s performances as advertising, both for aviation in general and for the Wright Company specifically. In 1910 and 1911 the exhibition department was also the largest single consumer of Wright Company...

  12. 6 To Change or Not to Change Creating New Airplanes and New Pilots
    (pp. 83-111)

    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 into production models built for public sale. This loss gained little notice in company communications, though, and at any rate the company developed few novel aeronautic technologies or airframe designs in need of the sorts of testing that the exhibition pilots might have provided. While the prototypical airplane changed significantly between 1910 and 1915—from pusher biplanes,...

  13. 7 Turning Buyer Attention the Company Way Advertising
    (pp. 113-127)

    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 their professional lives, providing plenty of unpaid publicity. But the brothers had no control over what newspaper reporters wrote. They realized that they needed to use paid advertisements if they were to ensure that their products were placed before consumers’ eyes in exactly the way they preferred. Wilbur and Orville Wright were certainly not naive when it...

  14. 8 Managing the Wrights’ Company
    (pp. 129-153)

    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 knew that the Wright Company was a different sort of business than their previous printing and bicycle ventures, and maintaining such close, personal oversight was not their stated intent during the company’s first days. In December 1909 they wrote to accountant and future Wright School student and aviation designer Albert Merrill, “We have a considerable stock in the company and are serving in...

  15. 9 “It Is Something I Have Wanted to Do for Many Months” Exit Orville
    (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 replaced in the White House by New Jersey Democrat Woodrow Wilson. After nearly a century without, the United States again had a central bank in the Federal Reserve. The city of Dayton had been through a devastating flood and adopted a new form of municipal government, with a powerful city manager and a weak mayor and council. Wilbur, his brother and...

  16. EPILOGUE The Wright Company’s Legacy
    (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 factory still stands, engulfed by later industrial development, but until the National Park Service took an interest in the factory site, only a few plaques, inaccessible behind a secured gate, served to physically commemorate the firm. Its intangible legacy, though, is more...

  17. NOTES
    (pp. 181-204)
    (pp. 205-212)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 213-218)