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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Does Audio Exist of Orville Wright's Voice?

(Updated 4/8/18) In "The Bishop's Boys", Tom Crouch writes in chapter 33, "Orville....alone with his friends....was a delightful conversationalist; amongst strangers he grew silent and withdrawn. He had few illusions about his capacity for leadership. The thought of attending a board meeting, let alone presiding at one, was abhorrent to him." And in Chapter 34, "Orville could never mask his painful shyness. He was uncomfortable even when accepting the plaudits of an admiring crowd. At the same time, he knew he could not escape that role. The result was an unsatisfactory compromise between his desire for privacy and the need to represent Wilbur and the other members of the family with dignity. Orville was the honored guest at scores of banquets over the years, but he absolutely refused to speak from the podium. He would not so much as offer an after-dinner thank you into the microphone, although he did, on occasion, write comments to be read by others. Requests for radio interviews were dismissed out of hand, and there are no known recordings of his voice." (At the time of publication of "The Bishop's Boys" in 1989, the film that captured some of Orville Wright's voice was not well known, or recognized for its significance.)(1)

A search on-line will bring up numerous pages where the question has been asked if audio exists of Orville Wright's voice, and the answer is indicated as "No". One inquirer in 2003 even indicated that the Smithsonian response to his question was that no audio exists.  But the fact is, audio does exist! Wilbur and Orville's voice were so similar that for a person standing in an adjacent room, it was difficult to distinguish who was talking, Wilbur or Orville. Based on this, by hearing Orville's voice in this audio recording, you will also gain the sense of how Wilbur's voice  sounded.

An example of one time Orville was willing to speak: Orville Wright in 1925 "appearing before the President's Air Board of Inquiry, asking for government aid for civil aviation in the way of airports, lighting equipment, licensing of pilots and training, if aviation is to succeed in this country." In "The Wright Sister" by Richard Maurer, the author states "On October 12, 1925...Lunch with President Coolidge was the finale of a week-long trip that included....testimony before a special presidential board in Washington. The night before Orv's testimony in Washington she (Katharine) helped him compose his remarks...The board knew that Orville rarely spoke in public, but they wanted to be able to say they had consulted him. Orv obliged with a series of cautious recommendations. More airports were needed, he said. So were regulations to ensure the safety of airplanes and the proficiency of pilots.....Orv talked for a few minutes and then answered questions. To Katharine's embarrassment, one of the board members drew attention to her. 'We are hearing and have for years heard of the Wright brothers and their accomplishments,' he announced,'but we hear very little of Miss Katharine Wright, who, after all, was just as instrumental in developing the airplane as were the brothers. I think we ought to at least be introduced to her. She is in the room.' (See my post "Did Katharine Wright contribute to the invention of the Wright Flyer?")

It is not much, but a few seconds of Orville's voice was recorded; not at the event of 1925 indicated above, but in 1935, at the Engineer's Club in Dayton. The audio is poor, and you'll need to turn the volume up a bit when Orville speaks, but at least we have a few words. I was speaking with an acquaintance after a church service one Sunday early in 2014, and he mentioned he had come across a video in the NCR archives in which Colonial E. A. Deeds and Charles Kettering were having a conversation, and Orville Wright steps into the picture and says a few words. Having read that there were no known recordings of Orville's voice, I told my friend that if what he was saying was factual, that he likely has discovered a video recording of historical significance. (At this time, I was not aware that this film had been discovered at least 14 years prior.) That very afternoon, my wife and I toured the Hawthorn Hill Wright home in Oakwood, and was told by a tour guide that there was no known audio recording of Orville Wright's voice. I mentioned that this may change soon, that there may be a recording of his voice after all. Further investigation on-line that evening, I came to the realization that in fact the video/audio does exist, and it has been available for viewing on-line. The video is of a 1935 film, at this link, "The Engineer's Club of Dayton" with Edward Deeds, Charles Kettering, and Orville Wright. The film is 9 minutes, 37 seconds in length, and Orville walks into the picture late in the video, so if you want to hear his voice, you'll need to have patience. The video is posted on the Dayton Innovation Legacy web site. Deeds and Kettering begin to talk at 5 minutes, 33 seconds into the film, and Orville eventually steps in for a short time. It's not much, but at least it is something, and having gone years with the understanding that no known audio of his voice existed, it was very pleasing to become aware of this audio.

1. Added 4/8/18- From a September 26, 2000 interview with Milton Wright, by Ann Deines, Dayton Aviation Heritage NHP, Oral History Project. (Milton's grandfather was Lorin Wright).
Ann-"So, going to ceremonies and doing things like that is something Orville did because he felt he should, be he didn't really enjoy it?"
Milton- "Yeah, he did when he had to, but he wasn't really......He was a member of the Engineer's Club, and he sort of liked to go there and talk with people he knew."
Ann- "They just found a film of him, where (Colonel Edward A) Deeds and ....I think its (Charles F.) Kettering, and talking on the film, and I guess Orville comes into the room. But I think it actually recorded his voice. I haven't seen it yet. It may be the only recording of his voice that now exists."
Milton- "Yeah, yeah."
2. Link to video updated 4/9/18. 

For more on Orville's presentation before the President's Air Board, go to my blog "A Conversation with Orville Wright- 1925"
For more on Orville Wright, see "Orville Wright- A Genuine Friend"
Also "Orville Wright's Sense of Humor"
For the complete index of topics, see "Index"

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