Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Wright Brothers Home

Transplanting the birthplace and home of pioneer aviators, Wilbur and Orville Wright, as well as their Cycle Shop, to Greenfield Village in 1938 was one of the most significant projects of the 1930's. Originally built in 1871 and located at 7 Hawthorne Street in Dayton, Ohio, Henry Ford and Orville Wright were heavily involved in the restoration process and wanted every minute detail to be perfect to the year 1903, the era of their first airplane flight.
Orville (b. 1871) and Wilbur (b. 1867) grew up in this house along with their sister Katharine. In fact, Orville and Katherine were born here.
The brothers added the front porch; on a neighbor's lathe Wilbur personally turned the big posts and Orville made the small turnings.

They also re-made and rearranged an inside stairway in the sitting room, along with other changes to the house. The following two photos are of that same stairway and of the sitting room itself.

The opposite view in the sitting room

The home was up-to-date for its time: it was equipped with gas lighting, a multi-burner gas range, and a water pump in the kitchen.

The above photograph of the kitchen was taken through a screen door - it is not accessible by visitors

The two brothers were avid readers and loved to tinker. They began a printing business in 1889 after the two designed and built their own printing press and put out a weekly newspaper called the Dayton Tattler.
Capitalizing on the new national bicycle craze, they opened up their own repair and sales shop, known initially as The Wright Cycle Exchange (later, The Wright Cycle Company). Money earned from this bicycle business financed the brother's flying experiments.
It was also in this house that the brothers did much of the design work for the airplane. Their mother, Susan, died before they even began to work on their experiments. Their father, Milton, supported his sons experiments and their bicycle business.

Entranceway to the Front Parlor from the sitting room

And here's the front parlor...
On the opposite end of the sitting room is the dining room

Neither of the brothers ever married. In fact, they made an unspoken pact, along with their sister, to never allow a romance to enter their lives - they considered their work far too important to have something as trivial as a marriage interfere!
This from the Wright Brothers internet site:
In the mid-1890s, Wilbur, Orville, and their sister Katharine were in their twenties, the age young people of their time typically began to seriously contemplate marriage. Yet none of them showed any interest in finding a mate. They seemed bound by an unspoken agreement to remain together and let no one come between them.

Katharine was extremely close with Wilbur and Orville, and became involved in her brothers' expeditions, even traveling to France with them in 1909, where she became a celebrity in her own right. After Wilbur's death she put all of her time and energy helping Orville continue the brothers' aeroplane business, The Wright Company, an aeroplane factory.

It was unfortunate that Wilbur contracted and died of Typhoid in 1912. As was written in a diary their father had kept:

May 30, 1912

This morning at 3:15, Wilbur passed away, aged 45 years, 1 month, and 14 days. A short life, full of consequences. An unfailing intellect, imperturbable temper, great self-reliance and as great modesty, seeing the right clearly, pursuing it steadily, he lived and died.

In the 1920s, Katharine renewed correspondence with an old boyfriend from college days, newspaperman Henry Haskell, a widower who lived in Kansas City. They began a romance through their letters, but Katharine feared Orville's reaction. After several attempts, Henry broke the news to Orville. He was devastated, and stopped speaking to his sister. When Katharine wed in 1926, Orville refused to attend the ceremony. Katharine and her husband moved to Kansas City, but she grieved over her broken relationship with Orville. She tried many times for a reconciliation, but Orville refused.

Two years after her marriage, Katharine contracted pneumonia. When Orville found out, he still refused to contact her. Another brother, Lorin, persuaded him to visit her, and he was at her bedside when she died. She was 54 years old (this passage is from Wikipedia).

Continuing on our tour of the house, we will head up the brothers' stairway to the second floor.

Here is a photograph of the hallway leading to the family member's bedrooms

The first room we see at the top of the stairs is sister Katherine's bedroom

Next we have Wilbur's room

...and Orville's room, situated right off of Wilbur's.

And then finally we have their parent's room, although the time that the house is being presented as - 1903 - their mother had been deceased for many years

It was on July 2nd, 1936 that Henry Ford purchased the Wright Brothers' home as well as their Cycle Shop. He had the buildings carefully taken apart and even removed the dirt under each to be removed to Greenfield Village. By November of that year both buildings were gone from Dayton. On the 71st anniversary of Wilbur's birth, April 16, 1938, the two restored buildings were formally dedicated inside Ford's open-air museum. Orville himself was a guest of honor at the dedication.


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