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he Henry Ford Museum and its adjacent Greenfield Village in Dearborn, MI were conceived by Henry Ford himself as a learning institution where Americans could learn how their ancestors lived and worked in the past specifically Henry Ford's past, the latter half of the nineteenth century and early portion of the twentieth. Ford believed that the precepts he had learned growing up in rural and small town Midwest America was responsible for his success and that of other Americans such as Thomas Edison, George Washington Carver, and the Wright brothers. Edison himself signed the cornerstone of the "Edison Institute," as it was originally known, in 1928. Then Ford began to fill the 8-acre building with what, at the time, many considered flea market fodder. Today, of course, they are priceless relics.

Legend has it that Ford set out to buy "one of everything made in America" from the Edison Institute's target time period and by all appearances, he very nearly succeeded. In addition to a word-class collection of historic automobiles, there is also a dazzling array of bicycles, plows, canning jars, saw mills, electric fans, steam engines, rocking chairs, early airplanes and other flotsam and jetsam from the Good Old Days. The present staff has expanded the original time period to include all of America's past. You will, for example, find a 1952 Oscar Meyer Weinermobile, a 1960 McDonald's Hamburger marquee, as well as relics from Colonial America. It is as complete a picture of American culture as has ever been assembled. The Institute opened in 1929 with Thomas Edison, Orville Wright, and other notable American scientists and engineers in attendance.

Not content just with artifacts, Ford also collected buildings and resurrected them in a "village" on an 81-acre tract next to the museum. Greenfield Village consists of 84 historic structures that were built in different parts of the United States at different time periods, providing life-size snapshots of homespun American architecture and industry. Originally, the village was intended as a hands-on classroom where students could learn both old and new technical skills and the original school operated until 1969, sometimes hosting over 200 students. In fact, there's a charter school of 400 students on the museum campus with an educational mission very much like the original.  But Ford also opened the village to the public in 1933.

Some of the buildings in the village are the homes and workshops of the people who invented modern America Ford's old Michigan homestead is there, along with Edison's New Jersey laboratories, and of course the Wright brother's home and bicycle shop.

Acquiring the Wright Stuff

One of the many things made in America that Ford had tried to buy for his museum was the 1903 Wright Flyer. He had approached Orville about purchasing it in 1925, when he learned that Orville was thinking of sending it to the Kensington Science Museum in London. Orville had said he would do this to protest the Smithsonian's continued promotion of the 1903 Langley Aerodrome as the first airplane "capable" of manned flight. Orville turned Ford down; he had already committed to Kensington.

Henry Ford decided to try again in late 1935 at the urging of William E. Scripps, editor of the Detroit News and a member of the Early Birds of Aviation (pilots who had learned to fly before World War I). Scripps and Ford sent the Detroit News aviation editor, James Piersol, to talk to Orville about bringing the Flyer back from England and installing it in the Henry Ford Museum. Orville once again refused, but was interested when Piersol proposed that he help facilitate the movement of the old Wright Cycle Company building to Greenfield Village to become part of the Greenfield Village "walking museum." Piersol invited Orville  to visit Greenfield Village in the summer of 1936 and five days after his visit, the Wright's old landlord, Charles Webbert, sold the old shop building at 1127 West Third Street to Piersol for $13,000. Piersol immediately donated it to Ford's Edison Institute. Several of Dayton's residents raised a fuss when the Dayton Daily News broke the story on 4 July 1936. Judge James Douglas of the Court of Common Pleas wrote, "It is an outrage to let a thing like this happen. First England takes the first airplane and now Henry Ford takes the original workshop…"

Most of Dayton, however, remained as uninterested in the matter as they had when the Wrights were making their first flights at Kitty Hawk and Huffman Prairie. Henry Ford, his son Edsel, and Fred Black, the director of Greenfield Village, swooped down from Dearborn that October. While talking to Orville about removing the bicycle shop, they found that the old home at 7 Hawthorne Street might also be available. A month later, they bought it from Lottie Jones, the Wright's former washerwoman, for $4,100. By February of 1937, both the shop and the house had been removed to Michigan. Henry Ford even took 20 tons of dirt on which the house stood, and the hole in the ground on Hawthorn Street remained for many years.

Restoring the Home and Shop

At Greenfield Village, both the house and the shop were placed side by side. (In Dayton, they had been a few blocks apart.) Curators restored them as nearly as possible to their appearance in 1903, when the Wrights made their first powered flight. Ford's people looked high and low for Charlie Taylor, the Wright's mechanic and the builder of their first airplane motors. They finally traced him to California where he was working as a machinist for North American Aviation for 65 cents an hour. The Edison Institute hired him as a consultant to oversee the restoration of the shop. Charlie, working with Orville's secretary, Mabel Beck, tracked down most of the machine tools they had used in the shop. What he couldn’t find, Charlie made, including a natural gas engine that he had helped the Wrights to make in 1901. It had powered their lathe, drill press, grinder – and wind tunnel!

Orville and Lottie Jones gathered items for the house, including some pieces of furniture that he and Wilbur had made. For some time, Lottie kept "discovering" things that had belonged to the Wrights and sending them up to Greenfield Village with requests for payment. Fred Black was amenable, but he didn't want her to continue milking the Edison Institute indefinitely. He finally confronted Lottie and demanded a complete list of the items she had so he could arrive at a final financial settlement.

The restored house and bicycle shop opened on Wilbur's birthday, 16 April 1938. Charles Kettering, inventor of the automotive self-starter and a friend of the Wrights, presided over the ceremony. Several pioneer aviators, including Frank Lahm and Walter Brookins (both of whom the Wrights taught to fly), also attended.

Up for a virtual expedition? With each of these locations we offer the option "Click HERE to visit..." This is a link to a KMZ file or placemark in Google Earth. When you click on the link, a box will appear asking is you want open, save, or cancel the file. Choose "Open" to run Google Earth and view the file immediately. Choose "Save" if to save the placemark and view it later. Note: You must have Google Earth installed to follow the placemark. If you do not already have Google Earth installed, go HERE.
The Wright brothers home and bicycle shop as it appears now in Greenfield Village at the Henry Ford Museum.

Overview of west Dayton, showing the former locations of the Wright home and bicycle shop.

The Wright brothers bicycle shop in Dayton as it once stood at 1127 West Third Street.

Wilbur at work in the back room of the Wright bicycle shop.

Hawthorn Street in West Dayton, looking south. The Wright home is on the right, second house down.

The Wright Home as it once stood at 7 Hawthorn Street. Note the bicycle leaning against the fence.

The Wright's parlor at 7 Hawthorn Street.

Orville Wright (left) and Henry Ford (right) standing at the window of 1127 West Third Street in Dayton in 1936, prior to Ford moving the building to Michigan.

The Wright brothers' restored home and workshop in Greenfield Village, Dearborn, Michigan, in 1938.

Wright Cycle Company

In 1892, the Wrights opened the Wright Cycle Exchange at 1005 West Third Street in Dayton, OH. The Wrights moved their bicycle business several times and renamed it once until the Wright Cycle Company ended up at 1127 West Third Street in 1897. The building was owned by Charles Webbert, a friend of the Wright family and the uncle (by marriage) of Charlie Taylor, the mechanician the Wrights hired in 1901. Webbert had bought the lot from its original owner, Jacob Zearing, and converted Zearing's small home into a two-story storefront with room for two businesses side by side – you can see evidence of the original roof gable on the sides of the enlarged building. The Wright Cycle Company leased one side, and Fetters & Shanks, Undertakers, leased the other.

Upon moving in, the Wrights installed a light machine shop in the back room. It was here that they built their first experimental kites and gliders, beginning in 1899. They upgraded the shop with a new metal lathe and drill press in 1901 and, with a help of Charlie Taylor, built a natural gas engine of their own design to run the tools. They went on to build their experimental powered aircraft, the Flyers of 1903, 1904 and 1905, while Charlie machined the first airplane engines. They also built their first commercial airplanes here, including the Flyers that Wilbur demonstrated abroad and flew around the Statue of Liberty,  and the first Military Flyer that Orville demonstrated at Fort Myer, VA. The shop was too small to completely assemble these powered aircraft; that was done either at the hangar at Huffman Prairie or in their brother Lorin's barn,  just behind and across Second Street from the bicycle shop.

The Wright Cycle Company remained in this location until 1908 when the shop briefly became the headquarters of the Wright's new airplanes business, and then a machine shop where employees of the newly-formed Wright Company made parts for Wright airplanes. The Wrights moved out completely in 1910 when they built a factory building and company headquarters a few miles west, just off of Dayton-Eaton Pike (a continuation of West Third Street). The building was rented to other businesses between 1910 and 1936, when Charles Webbert sold it to James Piersol, who was acting as an agent of Henry Ford. Piersol immediately donated it to Ford's Edison Institute and the building was dismantled and moved to Greenfield Village, where it was restored to its 1903 appearance. It opened to the public on 16 April 1938.

  • CLICK HERE to visit the original location of the Wright Cycle Company in Google Earth.
  • CLICK HERE to visit the the Wright Cycle Company at Greenfield Village in Google Earth.

View the Wright Cycle Company in a larger map

The restored Webbert Building that once housed the Wright Cycle Company as it now stands on Main Street in Greenfield Village. The Wrights also rented the upstairs on their half of the building.

The sales room of the Wright Cycle Company. The Wright brothers apparently did a brisk business in replacement tires. Early pneumatic tires were notoriously short-lived; reliable "double-tube tires" – tires with inner tubes – had just been introduced in 1898.

The tiny office space is just beyond the sales room.

The main workshop is at the back of the building. It's surprising small, especially considering the size of the aircraft produced here. The center section of a replica of the 1903 Wright Flyer fills much of the available floor space. Many of the Wrights' early aircraft were actually assembled in brother Lorin's nearby carriage barn.

Wright Home

Milton Wright and his wife Susan purchased their home at 7 Hawthorn Street in West Dayton in 1870 while it was still under construction. Milton had arrived in Dayton, OH the previous year when the Church of the United Brethren had appointed him the editor of the church newspaper, the Religious Telescope. The paper was published out of the United Brethren headquarters in Dayton. Milton and Susan moved their family into the house when it was completed in 1871. It was here that Orville was born on 19 August 1871. His sister Katharine, the last of the Wright children, was also born here exactly three years later on 19 August 1874.

In 1877, Milton was elected to the post of Bishop in his church and assigned to oversee all the United Brethren congregations between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains. In 1878, he moved his family to Cedar Rapids, IA and the house at 7 Hawthorne Street was rented in the event that the Wright family might return to Dayton Milton knew that his position and responsibilities in his church would change with United Brethren politics. He was relieved of his Bishop's post in 1881 and reassigned as a preacher in Indiana. The family moved to Richmond, IN that same year, and then back to Dayton, OH in 1884. Brothers Reuchlin and Lorin had left to start families of their own by this time, but Milton, Susan, Wilbur, Orville, and Katharine remained. The house at 7 Hawthorn Street was still occupied, so the Wrights temporarily rented a residence on Summit Street until their renters could find a place to move. When they did, the Wrights moved in to stay for several decades.

Wilbur and Orville used their considerable skill with tools to improve the house over the years they lived there. They built a stylish front porch, complete with turned posts and "Carpenter Gothic" decoration. They both built and Wilbur hand-carved a handsome staircase from black cherry hardwood. They also built some of the furnishings inside the home.

Susan died in 1889 and Milton became sole owner, but in 1901 the property changed hands. Milton had sold some land that he had bought while he lived in Iowa and he split the money between his four sons. Instead of sharing in the proceeds, daughter Katharine received the deed to the home at 7 Hawthorn Street and the family remained in place. It wasn't until Wilbur and Orville achieved considerable financial success with their airplane business that the Wright family thought of living somewhere else. In early 1912, the Wrights purchased 17 acres in nearby Oakwood township and began to build a mansion called Hawthorn Hill. Wilbur died before the new home was finished, but the remaining members of the family Milton, Orville, and Katharine moved in 1914. Katharine sold the house at 7 Hawthorn Street to her laundry woman, Lottie Jones, for $4,000.

  • CLICK HERE to visit the original location of the Wright Home in Google Earth.
  • CLICK HERE to visit the the Wright Home at Greenfield Village in Google Earth.

View the Wright Home in a larger map
The restored Wright home is just east of the Wright Cycle Company in Greenfield Village. It rests on 20 tons of dirt taken from its original location at 7 Hawthorn Street in Dayton, Ohio. This was common for many of the buildings in Greenfield Village after Thomas Edison told Ford that he felt that his Menlo Park Laboratories "should always stand on New Jersey soil." Ford honored Edison's wishes by moving the buildings and the soil.

The Wright parlor at the front of the house. It's said that Orville won the rocking chair (in the corner) in a bicycle race.

The ornamental staircase was built by the Wright brothers Wilbur carved the newel post.
The Wright's back yard. The small storage shed doubled as their darkroom for developing and printing photographs. This is also where Will and Orv stored the pieces of the 1903 Flyer after returning from Kitty Hawk.

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