How to Use
Reading 2: The Wright Brothers as Printers
Situated on the corner of South Williams and West Third Streets, the three-story commercial Hoover block was constructed in 1890 by Zachary T. Hoover as a mixed-use building. The first floor was designed to accommodate three shops; the second housed three suites; and the third was devoted to a large open meeting hall.
From 1890 to 1895, the Wright brothers operated "Wright and Wright Job Printers" in a suite at the front of the second floor of the Hoover block. The printing shop represented the first of Wilbur and Orville's three joint business ventures--printing, bicycles, and airplanes. It afforded them a significant opportunity to increase their mechanical and business skills and nurtured in them other abilities that would aid them in their later accomplishments. The years in the printing enterprise played an important role in the shaping of the young brothers' minds and stimulated their inventive and enterprising spirits.
The first Wright brothers' job printing business began in 1889 in a rented room of a building, which has since been demolished. While at that first location, the brothers issued two newspapers: the weekly West Side News and the daily Evening Item. The Wrights designed and built a homemade printing press to print their newspapers from junk iron, firewood, a gravestone, and a buggy top. The design of the press was such a mechanical success that the Wrights were hired to design and build printing presses for other firms as well.
Orville served as the publisher of the newspapers, while Wilbur was editor. Both these two papers eventually proved unsuccessful because of a lack of community support, and the brothers returned to filling traditional printing orders. As the Wrights remarked in their final editorial of the Evening Item:
…The greatest difficulty we had to contend with is the fact that the people of the West Side will not believe that "any thing good can come out of Nazareth." They seem to have a way when something new is started up over here of standing back and saying they do not believe it can succeed, instead of at once doing something to support it.¹
In 1890, the brothers moved their business to the newly constructed commercial Hoover block. Here, the firm of Wright and Wright prospered moderately by filling orders for calling cards, posters, annual reports, directories, letterheads, advertisements, and broadsides. Likewise, the Wright brothers received considerable business from their father, Bishop Milton Wright, who served as publishing agent for the Old Constitution of the United Brethren Church and publisher of the Christian Conservator.
Shortly after moving to the Hoover block, Wright and Wright became involved in yet another newspaper endeavor, the Dayton Tattler. This weekly paper, started in 1890, was the creation of the Wrights' friend, Paul Laurence Dunbar. Dunbar, an African American who later became a poet of international renown, conceived of the Tattler as a paper devoted to and for "every family of our race in the state. The price so low that all can afford it."²
The Wrights worked with Dunbar on the Tattler at the Hoover block throughout its short-lived existence, Orville remarking, "We published it as long as our financial resources permitted of it, which was not for long."³ In all, only three issues of the Tattler were published. However, Dunbar still appreciated the effort of the Wrights, especially the help of his high school classmate Orville.
In 1894, the Wrights again embarked on a newspaper enterprise with Snap-Shots, a weekly publication directed toward Dayton cyclists. By February 1896, one year after the printing business had been combined with the bicycle business at 22 South Williams Street, Snap-Shots was devoted to cycling news and the promotion of The Wright Cycle Company. First issued on October 20, 1894, and continuing until April 17, 1896, Snap-Shots was the longest running of any of the Wrights' papers.
Although Wright and Wright Printers moved from the Hoover block to 22 South Williams in the spring of 1895, the Hoover block was later again associated with the Wright brothers. The West Side neighborhood of Dayton showed overwhelming support of the Wright brothers and their invention of the airplane. In May 1909, upon the return of the Wrights to Dayton from an extended trip of successful flying demonstrations in Europe, a group of West Side businessmen organized the first aeroplane club in the world "to honor Wilbur and Orville Wright, two neighborhood sons who had conquered the air and just then returned from European laurels."4 This club, incorporated as the International Dayton Aeroplane Club, held its club meetings and social functions at the Hoover block. The members met monthly:
For the purpose of stimulating and fostering research in the science of aeroplanautics and aeronautics in general, co-operating in the exploitation of aerial devices, collecting literature bearing thereon and recognizing meritorious contributions or achievements by the conferring of suitable honors.5
Dues were a dollar a year and the club boasted a membership of more than 200. Among the members were Bishop Milton Wright and Wilbur and Orville's older brother, Lorin. As honorary lifetime members, Wilbur and Orville "frequently sat in on confabs about airplanes, balloons, and aviation."6
The Hoover block was the home of the first common business venture of Wilbur and Orville, a business that nourished their intimate bond of friendship and fostered a harmonious working relationship between them. Through the newspaper business, the Wright brothers learned how to report and record events accurately, a skill that would assist them in documenting their work with the airplane and would aid them in winning court cases of patent infringement. As printers, the Wrights designed and built machinery to ease their work, an experience that would aid them in their later development of machinery and mechanics to manufacture bicycles and build an airplane. Their time as printers developed their business experience as well, helping them later in founding the aviation industry. The 10 years that the brothers were in the printing business proved to be an important precursor to their later experiences of inventing and marketing the airplane.
Questions for Reading 2
1. What Wright business was located in the Hoover block?
2. As printers, what did the brothers invent to help them in their work? What was it made of? Does this seem unusual? Why or why not?
3. In what ways did printing help the brothers in their pursuit of aviation?
4. What other famous Daytonian is associated with the Wright brothers and the Hoover block?
5. How did the West Side neighborhood finally show their support for the Wright brothers?
Reading 2 was compiled from David G. Richardson, Jill York O'Bright, and William S. Harlow, "Wright Brothers-Associated Properties in the Dayton, Ohio Area" National Register of Historic Places Multiple Property Documentation Form (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1990); Mary Ann Johnson, A Field Guide to Flight: On the Aviation Trail in Dayton, Ohio (Dayton, Ohio: landfall Press, 1986); Fred Howard, Wilbur and Orville: A Biography of the Wright Brothers (New York: A. Knopf, 1987); and Tom D. Crouch, The Bishop's Boys: A Life of Wilbur and Orville Wright (New York: W.W. Norton, 1989).
¹ Dayton Evening Item, 30 July 1890.