Where Ideas Took Flight – the Wright Cycle Shop in Dayton Ohio

Wright Cycle Shop exterior Dayton Ohio (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Exterior of the Wright Cycle Shop – aviation history in downtown Dayton, Ohio (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

The Wright Cycle Shop building that you can visit as part of the Dayton, Ohio Aviation Heritage National Historic Park is not really THE cycle shop, because the Wright brothers had five different shop locations as their bicycle manufacturing and repair business changed and expanded.

The building you see above was their fourth shop (from 1895 to 1897) and it is the the only building remaining from their small business days.

The Aviation Heritage complex is expansive. It includes five National Historic Landmarks and a National Register Historic District, focused largely on aviation history but also on the ties between Wilbur and Orville Wright and author Paul Lawrence Dunbar. The Wrights were the printers for Dunbar’s “Dayton Tattler,” the community’s first African-American newspaper.

The Wright Cycle Shop is full of bicycle memorabilia from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, like a big bike lantern from a Wright brand “Van Cleve” women’s model that was made in and sold from that shop in 1895.

There are large photos of the Wrights at work, plus explanations of how tinkering around to make a better bicycle was key to their later success at Kitty Hawk with controlled motorized flight.

For example:

“They devised a gas engine to power their tools, mastered welding, built chain drives, brakes, and hubs – all crucial skills used to build the world’s first airplanes….by the time the Wrights moved to a larger shop in 1897, they already had an awakening interest in human flight.”

Work bench at Wright Cycle Shop Dayton OH (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Work bench at the Wright Cycle Shop in Dayton OH (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

There’s a placard photo of one of the Wright Van Cleves rigged with a testing device that helped them “experiment with motion, steering, and balance,” all of which fed into the work they eventually did with their 1903 Wright Flyer airplane.

An interactive “lift up to see more” display shows that a bicycle chain and sprockets turned the Flyer engine crankshaft; they also turned the propellers.

To learn more about the fascinating history of the Wrights and their dogged aviation work over many years, I highly recommend David McCullough’s book The Wright Brothers.

Standing in that small Dayton, Ohio bicycle shop, you can still feel their energy and innovation.

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