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1881, the leadership of the United Brethren was becoming more liberal and
progressive. Milton Wright, an
outspoken dyed-in-the-wool conservative, was not re-elected to his Bishop's
post and the leadership reassigned him. The Wrights
moved back to the Midwest and the Milton became a circuit preacher once again, operating
out of Richmond, Indiana. While in Richmond, he founded a monthly religious newspaper, The
Star, for fellow conservatives. Wilbur constructed a machine to fold the papers for
mailing -- perhaps his first original invention. Orville proved just as enterprising, in
his own way. He made kites and sold them to his friends, scavenged wood, bones, and junk
metal, organized an "army" of neighborhood children, even staged an
amateur circus using a cache of stuffed animals he and his friends had
Getting Their Hands Dirty
The move also placed the Wrights within visiting distance of their
maternal relatives, the Koerners. Their grandfather, John Koerner, had
died in 1876 after turning over the family farm to his son, Daniel.
While he lived, John was a
skilled carriage maker -- more of a carriage manufacturer,
really. His farm near Liberty, Indiana boasted upwards of a dozen buildings, including a
forge. An operation this size suggests that he had a large selection of tools
for a variety of crafts, including woodworking, metalworking,
blacksmithing, and leatherwork. Although their Uncle Daniel preferred to
make his living as a farmer, he had trained under his father making
wagons and carriages. When the Wright brothers visited the Koerner farm,
they would have marveled at these tools and have been able to question
their uncle about their use. Their mother had taught them to make
things, their many projects showed they enjoyed doing so, and
their interest may have peeked considerably during these visits.
Whatever the effect of their visits to Uncle Daniel's farm, Will and Orv developed a fascination for tools and what they
could do with them. They decided to build their own treadle-powered wood
lathe, which Orville would later recall was their first partnership in a
technical venture. Believing that the lathe would run better with ball
bearings, they made their own from clay marbles. It was an innovative
idea, even though it failed miserably – the lathe ground the marbles to
powder in a matter of minutes. They managed to get the lathe working
with more conventional "sleeve" bearings, possibly given to
them by their uncle.
Onward Christian Soldiers
Meanwhile, Milton was having his own troubles. As
the progressives in his church began to press for change, Milton Wright
sensed there would be a showdown with conservatives. Wanting to get back into the fray, he
decided in 1884 to move back to Dayton, the political center of the United Brethren
Church. It was the last time he would move his family, and the Wrights
settled permanently in Dayton, Ohio.
- Map of
West Dayton – A Google-eye view of the Wright brother's
Dayton neighborhood, showing the location of their home and
places of business.
Downtown Dayton, Ohio in the 1880s.
Looking west down Third Street in 1885, Hawthorn
Street would be across the river and to the left.
Looking south on Hawthorn Street about 1900. The Wright
home is the second on the right.
The Wright's home at 7 Hawthorn Street, Dayton, Ohio, in 1900.
That is probably a Wright
bicycle leaning against the wrought iron fence.