The Wright Brothers' Dayton
By the late nineteenth century, the American frontier had long since pushed west of Dayton, Ohio. As the twentieth century dawned, Dayton became a gateway to another frontier: the future. The people who lived here began sharing a different kind of manifest destiny - the belief that man was meant to change the world for the better through ingenuity and hard work. It was a heady time, a time of entrepreneurial determinism. It was a time when a man could fly.
The achievements of the Wright Brothers are a spectacular example of how seemingly insurmountable circumstances can be overcome through scientific methodology. “The Wright Brothers’ Dayton,” highlights an extraordinary period in Dayton’s history, the 1890’s through the early 1920’s, when inventors, entrepreneurs and visionaries called Dayton home. It was a time when men like John Patterson, Charles Kettering, Paul Laurence Dunbar and James Cox walked along the same city streets.
The advent of the railroad and telegraph in the early nineteenth century helped Dayton evolve from an active agricultural community into an industrial powerhouse. The city became a hotbed of invention and manufacturing. In fact, Dayton was referred to as “the city of a thousand factories.” As the need for a large work force grew, so did the population. In 1880 Dayton boasted a population of 36,678; by 1907 it had expanded to 140,000, an increase of almost 400 percent.
“In addition to celebrating the spirit of invention that distinguished the city during these years, ‘The Wright Brothers’ Dayton’ illustrates the changing face of the city as it grew from a small town into a sophisticated urban center,” notes ThinkTV Production Manager and program writer/producer Shawn Brady. “The program chronicles the “can do” spirit of those who recognized the problems inherent in rapid expansion, envisioned solutions and applied technology to create one of the first examples of an industrialized city that strived to increase the quality of life for its citizens.”
Increased industrial productivity brought prosperity, more residents owned homes in Dayton than in any other city of equal size in the world. The city’s phenomenal growth brought with it increased crime, poverty and disease. In response, urban reformers challenged the city to take steps to safeguard the public’s health and welfare. Parks and recreation centers began to appear for the first time - while public education and the library system were greatly expanded. Companies like NCR pioneered a form of employee welfare. Business leaders like John Patterson believed that providing a quality environment for his workers was a moral imperative as well as good business.
Even the devastating 1913 flood couldn’t stop the momentum of progressive initiatives. When the flood and its aftermath brought to light corruption in local government, businessmen pushed city residents to adopt a commission/city manager form of government. The business community also took steps to prevent future flooding. This led to the creation of the Miami Conservancy District, a system of dry dams that became the second largest building project ever attempted in the United States - and the first conservancy of its kind.
“As Dayton continues to meet the challenges of a modern urban environment, ‘The Wright Brothers’ Dayton’ reminds us of the grand tradition of invention and innovation that belongs to this city. And, it will help viewers appreciate the accomplishments of the Wright Brothers in the context of a community that was itself geared toward inventiveness and success,” says Brady.
“The Wright Brothers’ Dayton” was produced by ThinkTV in partnership with the Montgomery County Historical Society.