the Wright brothers were anxious to return to America to get back to work,
America had other plans. In their absence, the Wright brothers had become
national heroes — the first great celebrities of the new century. And
every politician who understood their appeal suddenly announced plans to
award medals, organize parades, host dinners — anything to share the
spotlight with the Wrights for a second or two.
New Yorkers planned an elaborate welcoming ceremony. The United States
Congress, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Aero Club of America all
wanted to award them medals when they landed. Governor James M. Cox of
Ohio protested to President Taft that the medals should be presented in
Dayton (with the governor in attendance, of course). Taft invited
officials from Ohio and New York to debate the matter in the White House.
However, the Wright Brothers settled the debate before it began. Still out
at sea, they cabled their intention to get back to Dayton as quickly as
possible to begin work on a new military Flyer.
The city of Dayton, meanwhile, geared up for a blow-out in mid-June. A
group of the Wright's close friends had contacted them about the possibility
of a modest homecoming celebration while they were enroute from Europe,
and at first Will and Orv had been grateful. But as the celebration grew
beyond its original scope and the Wrights realized how much work had to be
done on the new Military Flyer, they grew less so. "The Dayton presentation has been made the excuse for an elaborate
carnival and advertisement of the city under the guise of being an honor
to us," Wilbur wrote to Octave Chanute. "As it was done against
our known wishes, we are not as appreciative as we might be."
Nor was that their only interruption. Upon arrival in Dayton Ohio on
May 13, 1909, they were met by a crowd of 10,000 people and whisked away
to an all-day party. President Taft requested their presence in
Washington, DC, and several days later they were in the East Room of the
White House listening to speeches and accepting medals.
Nevertheless, they did get some work done. At their bicycle shop on
1127 W. Third Street, they tested engines and propellers. In a makeshift
workshop that they installed in the carriage barn behind their brother
Lorin's house, they made the parts of the airframe. Slowly, the first
American military aircraft took shape.
On June 17, 1909, the Wilbur and Orville gave in to the inevitable and
joined in a two-day long city-wide celebration in their honor. Octave
Chanute advised them to buck up and take it like men. "I know that
the reception of honors becomes oppressive to modest men," he wrote,
"but in this case you have brought the trouble on yourselves by
completing the solution to a world-old problem, accomplished with great
ingenuity and patience at much risk of personal injury to
The Dayton spectacle included parades, parties, concerts, festivals,
fireworks, awards, and a gigantic American flag composed of schoolchildren
dressed in red, white, and blue. Wilbur and Orville took it all in
graciously and showed nothing but appreciation. At on point, the Wrights
stood in a reception line at the Dayton YMCA and determined to shake hands
with every one in Dayton who wished to shake hands with them. The
reception line extended for blocks outside the YMCA and the handshaking
went on for hours. At some point, Will and Orv became too exhausted to
lift their arms and asked if the remaining people in line would mind just
a nod. They stood for hours more and nodded their thanks to the Daytonians
who filed by.
When it was all over, they got up early the very next morning caught a
train for Fort Myer, Virginia and the trials of their new military