December 11, 2012
By Alton K. Marsh
The original Wright factory.
Photos used with permission from the Dayton Aviation Historical Alliance
Efforts are in progress at Dayton, Ohio, to save and display the first aircraft factory in the United States, which since 1919 has been used to build car parts. General Motors first bought it in 1919 and built parts made by AC Delco (Dayton Electric Company) and Delphi (over-the-counter car parts) until 2008.
An entity called Home Avenue Redevelopment LLC has recently taken title to the site that includes the historic Wright Company factory buildings. The acquisition puts the company in position to redevelop the Delphi plant for commercial use while preserving the Wright Company Factory Site for public use as an element of the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park. In 2009, President Barack Obama signed an act that expanded the national park's boundaries to include the factory site and Hawthorn Hill, the Wright family mansion in Oakwood.
The factory as it looks today.
Today the factories sit surrounded by larger buildings built by General Motors and Delphi. While they were the first in the United States to be used for aircraft construction, they are also the oldest aircraft factory buildings still standing anywhere in the world—thanks to the car industry.
A 1911 photo shows what the factory looked like from 1910 until 1916, when aircraft production stopped, but parts were still made until 1919 for assembly at the Wright plant in Moraine, Ohio. General Motors bought it in 1919.
Hull and Associates formed Home Avenue Redevelopment to redevelop the site with the help of a $3 million Clean Ohio Fund matching grant.
“The birthplace of the aircraft industry has taken a major step toward preserving an historic treasure,” said Brad White, a principal of Hull and Associates, in announcing the purchase.
Wilbur and Orville formed the Wright Company in New York in 1909 and built the first factory building in 1910. Wilbur died in 1912 and Orville sold his holdings in 1915. Aircraft production ceased in 1916. The Dayton-Wright Airplane Company made aircraft parts for its Moraine assembly plant from 1918 to 1919.
A sketch of the redevelopment of the factory.
General Motors acquired the buildings in 1919 but soon converted it to auto manufacturing. It remained an active factory as a GM, Delco, and Delphi plant until Delphi closed it in 2008.
It will be a couple of years before the Wright factory is returned to its early history and is opened to visitors, said Tony Sculimbrene, executive director of the National Aviation Heritage Alliance in Dayton.
The National Aviation Heritage Area includes Montgomery, Greene, Miami, Clark, Warren, Champaign, Shelby, and Auglaize counties in southwestern Ohio. The National Aviation Heritage Alliance is a not-for-profit corporation designated by Congress as the management entity of the area. It aims to make the Dayton region “the recognized global center of aviation heritage and premier destination for aviation heritage tourism, sustaining the legacy of the Wright brothers.”
AOPA Pilot Senior Editor Alton Marsh has been a pilot since 1970 and has an airline transport pilot certificate and instrument and multiengine flight instructor certificates, aerobatic training, and a commercial seaplane certificate.
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