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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Orville Wright- A Genuine Friend

(Revised May 4, 2019) Orville Wright has at times been portrayed in a negative light and therefore treated rather unfairly by certain authors. One such example can be found in Lawrence Goldstone's book "Birdmen- The Wright Brothers, Glenn Curtiss, and the Battle to Control the Skies", 2014. The author writes in the Epilogue:
"For all his achievements and notoriety, it is difficult to view Orville Wright as anything but a sad and lonely man who never found his calling- and perhaps never sought it- and who died without ever making one genuine friend."
Why Lawrence Goldstone would write such a statement when the facts clearly show otherwise, I'll leave that for him to explain.

One of Orville Wright's genuine friends was Colonel Edward A. Deeds. In the book "Colonel Deeds Industrial Builder" by Isaac F Marcosson, 1947, Marcosson wrote "One of the closest friendships in the Colonel's life is for Orville Wright, his famous fellow Daytonian...Their kinship has ripened with the years."

Orville Wright and E. A. Deeds, good friends. (Carillon Historical Park)

As reported in the NCR Factory News, February-March 1948 issue, Colonel Deeds said, "In the passing of Orville Wright, the world has lost one of its great men, one whose contribution to its progress we have only begun to measure. It was our privilege to know him as a fellow citizen of our city, but he was no less a citizen of the world. Modest and capable, he was equally at home in the highest circles or in the workshop which has always been a part of his life.
I have known Orville Wright intimately for many years. He was one of my closest friends and his passing is a deep personal loss. There are no words which would adequately picture either the character or the achievement of this man who, from the most humble beginning, rose to world eminence."

NCR Loses a Close Friend
NCR Factory News, Feb/March 1948. "He was one of my closest friends...."(3)

From "Wright Reminiscences", compiled by Ivonette Wright Miller, Colonel Deeds stated "I treasure Orville's friendship highly. He is one of those great men who remain unspoiled by adulation. He is witty and has a keen sense of humor. While he never makes a public speech, he is an interesting and entertaining conversationalist, especially if the subject is a scientific one."
Wright Brothers Hill Wright Patterson AFB Dayton Ohio
Press photo of Orville Wright and Colonel Deeds, August 19, 1940, during the dedication of the Wright Memorial at Wright Brothers Hill, Wright Patterson AFB. Orville was presented honorary pilot's license No. 1, now hanging at the Engineer's Club in Dayton.(3)

Colonel Deeds wrote the following letter to the President of the Diamond Chain Company, Guy A. Wainwright, 6 months after Orville Wright's death. The letter concerns restoration of the 1905 Wright Flyer III. The Diamond Chain Company provided chains for the original construction of the Wright Flyers, and was therefore also involved in supplying chains for the restoration. This will be a subject of another blog, but note that Deeds writes "...Mr. Orville Wright who I was privileged to know as a close and cherished friend."
Portion of July 29, 1948 letter from Edward A. Deeds to Guy A. Wainwright discussing the construction of Carillon Park in Dayton Ohio, and the restoration of the 1905 Wright Flyer III. "Orville Wright....a close and cherished friend."(3)

Orville and life long friend Charles Kettering. From the Dayton Journal, January 31, 1948.(3)
Rosamond Young and Catharine Fitzgerald in "Twelve Seconds to the Moon", 1983, wrote:
"Edward Deeds, Charles F. Kettering, and Orville often spent evenings together. After dining, they sat around spinning yarns. One of the men said he had heard it was a good idea to lie down after a heavy meal. Deeds and Kettering discussed the matter for some time, finally deciding that it was not a good idea because blood circulation needed for digestion slows down during a nap. Then Orville, who had said nothing, remarked, 'If what you fellows say is true, there must be a lot of sick dogs in the world.'"

From "Wright Reminiscences", Orville's dentist of 24 years, Dr. Theodore E. Lilly wrote:
"With his passing, I felt a tremendous loss. We had become good friends through the many years of physical closeness and personality rapport."
Orville's cousin Jay R. Petree:
"Only his immediate family and the few close friends would ever see and love that fine inner self that he reserved for the few. From that time, our friendship grew and became a deeply moving experience for me and, later, for my wife and family."
Robert Hadeler in "Wright Reminiscences", tells of Orville's Lambert Island property on the Georgian Bay in Canada. Robert had a summer job helping with chores there from 1928 through 1932. Robert wrote "O.W. appeared to be shy, retiring and diffident in public places. He was not at all unsure of what he wanted and thought, but he was not aggressive or forward. He was always extremely polite and thoughtful. In private conversation he was interesting and really quite a talker....Usually during the summer we would visit the Williams who had the cottage on an island several miles away....Also, the McKenzies who had an island nearby would some years invite O.W. over for a visit...Mostly our visitors were O.W.'s nieces and nephews and their families....Lorin's children, Milton (and wife and two young boys), Bus Wright (and wife) and Ivonette Wright Miller (and husband)....his brother Reuchlin's daughter, Mrs. Russel, and her three children...The island had lots of blueberries which I would pick and O.W. would make wonderful pies....
Another visitor came over from England each year to visit O.W. He was Griffith Brewer, the first Englishman to fly or at least a ballooning and aviation enthusiast...His visits were always eagerly anticipated as were those of the other guests."

"Orville Wright smiles from his sleeping bag during a western camping trip with Edward and Edith Deeds"- Carillon Historical Park Archives

Fred Howard wrote in "Wilbur and Orville", 1987, "But the protective coloration that enabled Orville to disappear into the background in public did not extend to his private life. He was anything but shy with relatives and friends, willing at the drop of a hat to express an opinion on issues of the day that interested him...Among family and friends, Orville had a reputation as a tease and a practical joker."

Frederick J. Hooven wrote "Longitudinal Dynamics of the Wright Brothers' Early Flyers", as recorded in The Wright Flyer, edited by Howard S. Wolko, 1987. Fredrick wrote "As a schoolboy of 15...(the year 1920) I became a designer of a machine that was being built by a group of schoolmates. Orville Wright was a trustee of our school and it seemed sensible to talk to him about our design. He received us with the same grave courtesy he would have accorded any visiting group, and talked to us in grownup terms. We were charmed, and went back to see him many times. He loaned us a little fixture he had made to shape wing sections of wax, and we made wings and tested them in his wind tunnel. He clearly enjoyed our visits and was never too busy to see us, and we loved him....He had a wonderful sense of humor and was very sharp witted.
Alone of that group I went back to see him many times during the later years and we were good friends until he died in 1948."

Wilbur and Orville were brothers, but they were more than that, they were great friends.
Wilbur Wright, 1912- "From the time we were little children my brother Orville and myself lived together. We usually owned all of our toys in the common, talked over our thoughts and aspirations so that nearly everything that was done in our lives has been the result of conversations, suggestions and discussions between us."
Orville and his brother Lorin were also good friends.

In "The Bishop's Boys", Tom Crouch wrote "Fred C. Kelly ...had first met Orville as a young reporter...Kelly had actually been working as a newsman in Xenia at the time of the flights at Huffman Prairie in 1904-05, although he did not then know the Wrights. A free-lance writer and columnist, he published his first interview with Orville, 'Flying Machines and the War,' in the July 5, 1915, issue of Collier's. Kelly's sense of humor and way with words impressed Orville, and the two became fast friends. Over the years, Kelly would publish one article after another, many of them humorous, based on interviews and comments from the inventor of the airplane."
Fred Kelly wrote "The Wright Brothers: A Biography Authorized by Orville Wright", 1943.

Levitt Luzern Custer (as indicated in WSU MS-302) "was a Dayton-area aviator and inventor, and an associate of Orville Wright. During his lifetime he engaged in pioneering balloon experiments, served as an official timer for flight trials, collaborated with Orville Wright on various projects, and invented a wide range of mechanical machines from the statoscope to amusement park rides." Luzern had this to say concerning Orville, "My acquaintanceship with Orville Wright dates back to the days when he and his brother, Wilbur, operated their bicycle shop on W. Third St. He was one of my closest, personal friends and I had the highest respect for him. In his passing, I feel a keen personal loss. The world will yet come to a fuller appreciation of Orville Wright."(Dayton Daily News, January 31, 1948)

Paul E. Ackerman- "As a personal was my pleasure to accompany Orville Wright to the birthday celebration of Charles Kettering at Loudonville....You may be surprised to know that Mr. Wright himself drove me to Loudonville, and since we were the only occupants of the car, there were related to me by Mr. Wright many incidents and plans, purely personal, which had not been related to anyone else. On the return trip from Loudonville, Orville Wright became the passenger, during which time he engaged me in conversation constantly. He was a good friend who enjoyed and respected friendships." (The Dayton Herald, February 7, 1948, Rotary Club Speakers Pay High Tribute to Memory of Member, Orville Wright)

Frank D. Slutz- "I have cherished Orville Wright's friendship for many years. He has been an inspiration to me time and time again and was one of the men who was responsible for my coming to Dayton....One of the most gracious things about him was his ability to make his friends acquainted with each other. Many times he invited me to his home to meet the world renowned personages who were visiting him. He was willing to remain in the background, gaining his pleasure in the enjoyment of his guests. He was gracious beyond explanation...If I were to phrase my impression of Orville Wright, I would say, 'Quiet dignity is the badge of his spirit' ". (The Dayton Herald, February 7, 1948)

In December of 1933, during the 30th anniversary of first flight celebration, Col. Deeds said the following, "After we live a life, we have three or four or maybe five genuine, reliable friends. That's all of that type we can get out of life and I place Orville second on my list of such friends with Charles Kettering first." (4)

I could go on and mention more of Orville's friends, but I think I've made my point.

For more of Orville Wright, the "sad and lonely man", check out "Orville Wright's Sense of Humor" 

Index of Topics
1. Revised January 26, 2016, letter of E.A. Deeds added.
2. Revised July 20, 2018, quotes italicized.
3. From Author's collection.
4. Dayton Daily News Dec 19, 1933, "Plane is Greatest Gift to National Defense, Says Pratt"

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Getting the Story Wright- "Trust but Verify"

(Updated March 2, 2018)
Much research is required in writing a book about the Wright Brothers, and the odds are against the author in producing an absolute error free manuscript.(1) Sometimes the errors are simply typographical, but other times, the facts are just simply incorrect. Ideally, any errors missed during the editing process will come to light after the first printing, and corrections perhaps made in later editions.(2) I've read over 125 books on the Wright Brothers, and have often come across a passage that contradicts another author's writing, or I know does not agree with an original source of information. These can be very minor points, such as a date being incorrect by a year or two, or the errors can be major factual blunders. To begin with, the following are examples of errors I have come across from David McCullough's "The Wright Brothers", published 2015. These are minor factual points, but I offer them up as an example that even amongst the best authors and best titles, as readers, we need to "trust but verify".

David McCullough writes in Chapter Six, "Out at Huffman Prairie", the year is 1904, and the Wrights have designed a catapult "Its components consisted of a 20-foot tent-shaped tower, or derrick. Made with four wooden poles, it looked like a drilling rig. At the apex, over a pulley, hung by a single rope metal weights totaling as much as 1,600 pounds.....With a team of horses the brothers would haul the weights up to the top of the derrick. Then, when all was ready, the pilot would release the rope, the weights would drop, the machine would be pulled rapidly down to the end of the track, then shoot into the air..."
The next paragraph appears to get the facts wrong-
"On September 7, with scarcely any wind, Wilbur tested the new catapult for the first time, starting with only 200 pounds of weights. By day's end, having added another 400 pounds, he could take off with no difficulties and flew longer distances than ever..."
This error here is that the Wrights actually started with 600 pounds, and added 200 pounds, and then another 200 pounds. 

Catapult and Hangar reproduction as displayed at Huffman Prairie, Wright Patterson AFB, Dayton, Ohio.

James Tobin, in his book "To Conquer the Air", Chapter Eight, "What Hath God Wrought?", page 210, correctly states the following-
" With Kate and her friend Melba Stilliman watching, the brothers tried the catapult for the first time September 7, 1904. The wind was barely breathing. With 600 pounds of weight pulling it, the machine whizzed along the rail- nearly 100 yards in nine seconds- but it flew less than 150 feet. The brothers added 200 pounds to the weight and 'almost got a start'. They added 200 more pounds. Now Will shot forward and up, and stayed aloft for just over 2000 feet."
In a letter written by Orville Wright to John W. Wood, September 25, 1939, Orville offers corrections to a manuscript Wood has prepared, and writes the following-
" Page 3, under "Catapult": The weight used was generally either 1200 or 1400 pounds. I believe only one flight was made with a 600 pound weight." This one flight mentioned by Orville would correspond to the "less than 150 foot" flight mentioned by James Tobin, using a 600 lb weight. The additional flights that September 7th were made with 1000 pounds of weight, as written by Tobin, not just 600 pounds as written by McCullough.(3)

Next, David McCullough, in "The Wright Brothers", pg 127, states the following-
"On the afternoon of October 5, 1905, before more than a dozen witnesses, Wilbur circled the pasture 29 times, landing only when his gas ran out....By the time the experiments ended, the brothers had made 105 'starts' at Huffman Prairie and thought it time now to put their creation, Flyer III, on the market."
But then, on pg 128, McCullough writes
"By this time the brothers were routinely making controlled flights in their aircraft of 25 miles or more."
This sentence as written sounded very familiar. Searching my memory, I recalled I had seen this quote from Mark Bernstein's book "Wright Brother's Home Days Celebration, 1909", 2003, Chapter "The Welcome", pg 1, in which Mark wrote-
"By 1905, their aircraft was routinely making controlled flights of 25 miles or more."
This statement is incorrect. The last flight of October 5, 1905 by Wilbur Wright was 24 1/5 miles in length. There were no more flights until 1908. There were no routine flights of 25 miles or more during this time. The flights were discontinued because the word was out that the Wrights were making substantial flights at Simms Station, and the brothers were concerned photographs and details of their Flyer would be made public.
As recorded by Wilbur Wright in his Diary, Thursday, October 5, 1905, "News of Oct 5th contained article; and Post of October 6th. Experiments discontinued for present."
Wright Brother flights 1905 Simms Station Huffman Prairie
From Aero Club of America, March 12, 1906 statement, flight lengths Huffman Prairie, 1905.
Next, on page 133, "The Wright Brothers", McCullough writes "On May 22, 1906, the patent applied for in 1903 was at last issued on the Wright Flying Machine, patent number 821,393, and through the rest of that spring and summer, preoccupation with a new engine for Flyer III went on, and flight tests continued at Huffman Prairie into the fall."
This perhaps should be worded differently. Flight tests were discontinued in 1905. Engine tests continued, but not flight tests.

Next, chapter Eight, "Triumph at Le Mans", pg 155, McCullough writes about the Wrights returning to Kill Devil Hills in 1908, "Though he had been forewarned that the camp at Kill Devil Hills was in shambles, what Wilbur found was worse than he had imagined. Of the original building, only the sides still stood. The new building was gone, carried off by violent storms or vandals.....Walking among the ruins he kept turning up pieces and parts of the 1901, 1902, and 1903 machines."
The error here, is the mention of the 1903 machine. The 1903 machine (the Wright Flyer) had been crated and sent back to Dayton Ohio, late December 1903. The glider that was used for practice in 1903 was the 1902 glider that had been left behind in 1902. There was no 1903 machine at Kill Devil Hills in 1908 of which to find pieces and parts.

Within the first group of photos within the book, Steele High School and the Main street bridge is shown. David incorrectly identifies the photo as "The Third Street Bridge over the Miami River, with the towered Steele High School on the right..."

Again, these are minor errors within a 267 page book. "The Wright Brothers" is an enjoyable read. David McCullough's positive portrayal of the brothers is refreshing and his book is welcomed as a defender of the Wright Brother's accomplishments.

Another enjoyable read is "Gentleman Amateurs- An Appreciation of Wilbur and Orville Wright" by Mark Bernstein. The pictures depicted throughout this book are a pleasure to view, as they are often full page, or spread across two pages. There are a number of quotes given however that could use correction or clarification, and those are offered here.

Under the section "The Bishop and His Lady", we read "In the mid-1800's Susan contracted tuberculosis, which is a slow death. Hers came on July 4, 1889. Wilbur was 22; Orville, 18. Milton wrote in his diary, "And thus went out the life of my home." Milton actually wrote "And thus went out the light of my home."

In section "A Propeller is a Spinning Wing", we read "Wilbur later wrote: 'Nothing about a propeller, or the medium in which it acts, stand still for a moment. The thrust depends upon the speed and the angle at which the blade strikes the air, the angle at which the blade strikes the air depends upon the speed at which the propeller is turning, the speed at which the machine is traveling forward, and the speed at which the air is slipping backward; (while) the slip of the air backward depends upon the thrust exerted by the propeller, and the amount of air acted upon. When any of these changes, it changes all the rest.'" This was actually written by Orville, not Wilbur, as discussed in McFarland's The Papers of Wilbur and Orville Wright, Vol 1, The Wright Propellers, page 596, quoted from Orville's 1913 Flying article.

In section "A Team No Longer", we read "Wilbur died early on May 30, aged 45.......Wilbur had several months earlier provided a sort of epitaph for himself. In a letter to Octave Chanute, he wrote:
"If there be a domineering, tyrant thought, it is the conception that the problem of flight may be solved by man. When once this idea has invaded the brain, it possesses it exclusively. It is then a haunting thought, a walking nightmare, impossible to cast off. If we now consider the pitying contempt with which such a line of research is appreciated, we may somewhat conceive the unhappy lot of the investigator whose soul is thus possessed." Wilbur died in 1912, and Octave Chanute died in 1910, so obviously, Wilbur did not write this in a letter several months prior to his death to Chanute. The quote was written by Louis Pierre Mouillard in his 1881 book "The Empire of the Air". Wilbur quoted Mouillard in an article published by Literary Digest April 27, 1912.

Page 234-235 of Gentleman Amateurs depicts a biplane passing through Tower Bridge, titled "The old meets the new"- In 1912, a Wright airplane made a demonstration flight in London, including a pass through Tower Bridge."  The picture however does not show a Wright biplane, but instead shows Frank McClean in a modified Short seaplane.

I'll add to this post over time with other examples.  

(1) My intent in writing this post is two fold. First to point out that errors do exist in many of the historical books we read, and that given, we need to be watchful, and careful not to repeat any error. Second intent, is to simply correct the history.

(2) For the errors I mention, I don't know if corrections have been made in later editions. I am simply using the edition within my own library collection.

(3)  McFarland "The Papers of Wilbur and Orville Wright" as recorded in Wilbur Wright's Diary, 1904-1905, pages 13-17, Wednesday, September 7, 1904-
Derrick. Drop 16 1/2 (ft). Geared 3:1 = 50ft. Wind about 2 mi. 
(40.) 1st trial. Wt. 600 lb. Distance 136 ft. Time 6 sec. Slowed and stopped. 89 meters (in) 9 sec.
(41.) 2nd trial. Wt. 800 lb. Distance 200 ft. Time 7 sec. Wind about 2 mi. Almost got a start. 
(42.) 3rd trial. W.W. 1000 lbs. On track 77 ft. 2 4/5 sec. Distance 1,360 ft. Time 37 sec....K. W. & Melba S(illiman) (present).
Friday, September 9, 1904
(43.) Wt. 1,200 lbs.....
(44.) W.W. Wt. 1200 (lbs)....
Tuesday, September 13, 1904
Wt. 1,200 lbs., &c.
Wednesday, September 14, 1904
1,200 lb. wt.
Monday, September 26, 1904
(54.) 2nd flight. O.W. 1,400 lbs.....

For David McCullough's Miniseries parody script, see "Tom Hanks and the Wright Brothers Miniseries"

Also check out "American Genius- Wright Brothers vs. Curtiss- The True Story"

Index of Topics