The Creation of the Wright Company

Nov 22, 2012

On this day in 1909, a company was incorporated that would eventually build the first airplane factory in Dayton Ohio. It was called the Wright Company. Local aviation photographer and historian Dan Patterson tells us the story.

Last time we spoke, I described the momentous flight Wilbur Wright made in new York City in 1909 when a million New Yorkers saw an aeroplane for the first time.

One of those millions called on Wilbur later that day at the Park Hotel in Manhattan.  Clinton Peterkin, 25 years old, was an entrepreneur.  He had been an office boy for J.P. Morgan, an American financial giant.  Peterkin told Wilbur that he wanted to form a company to build airplanes.  Wilbur was friendly but kept him somewhat at arms length, told him that he and Orville were only interested in what he called "men of consequence."  He said they wanted "names that carried weight."

Peterkin went to J.P. Morgan directly, and he signed on.  Within weeks he also had Cornelius Vanderbilt on board and eventually a board of directors that represented 2 steels companies, 2 railroads, the New York subway system, the New York Giants and Colliers Weekly Magazine.  On November 22, 1909, the Wright Company was incorporated with a capital stock of one million dollars.

The idea was that the Wrights would continue their flying experiments and the new managers would run the business.

Part of the Wright Company's Sewing Department with Ida Holdgreve at work.
Part of the Wright Company's Sewing Department with Ida Holdgreve at work.
Credit from the Special Collections and Archives at the Wright State University Libraries

The owners built a factory one mile from the West Third Street neighborhood where the Wrights lived.  It was the first airplane factory in the United States and opened for business in November 1910.  A second identical building came soon thereafter.

The Wright Company built the Model B airplane: wings, struts, propellers, chains and motors.  Lots of women were employed to sew the fabric that covered the wings.  inside, the factory was full of natural daylight.  Skylights and huge windows ensured that.

Years later, the buildings were occupied by Inland Manufacturing, part of General Motors, where they built automobile parts, and during World War II, they made guns.  My dad who served in that war, was issued an Inland manufactured carbine in basic training.

Now, one hundred years after they were built, the Wright Company factory buildings at the corner of Home and Avenue and West Third Street will be included in the Dayton National Aviation Historical Park.

I had a chance to to walk through the other day.

The huge windows on the outside walls are now covered, some with brick, some with plywood.  Inland changed the buildings, but they were will be restored.  The original concrete floor remains and many tantalizing hints of the original structure, too.  It's easy to imagine the cornfields that once grew across the street.

Only 120 airplanes ever came out of that factory.

Two years after manufacturing began Wilbur died.  Orville was devastated.  His brother, his partner, the other half of his genius was gone.

And then, in 1915, Orville sold the Wright Company, and he became the grand old man of aviation, forever known as an inventor and the pilot of the first powered airplane.

 

Support for aviation programming on WYSO comes from The National Aviation Heritage Alliance.