I’m not sure if people who visit the Wright Brothers’ house have preconceived ideas or not. If they’ve read about the brothers, they will not be surprised that it is a very modest middle class house. As with any historic house, it is clean. Like most, it lacks a lived-in look. But, as with the homes of famous people, one only has to pause and think about the ideas that were generated in those rooms. From within that space and the nearby bike shop came an idea that truly transformed the world. Of course ideas come from minds, but setting also contributes. “We were lucky enough to grow up in an environment where there was always much encouragement to children to pursue intellectual interests; to investigate whatever aroused curiosity. In a different kind of environment, our curiosity might have been nipped long before it could have borne fruit.”
— Orville Wright
In this case, the house interior and exterior may be accurate (Orville ensured that), but the house sits about two hundred miles northwest of its original location in Dayton, Ohio. Henry Ford purchased the house and bike shop and moved them to his Greenfield Village in 1937 where they are now open to the public. The Wrights resided in the house with their father and sister until Wilbur’s death in 1912.
The brothers’ handiwork is everywhere– the fireplace mantle they built for their mother, and the shutters and the wraparound porch they built. The shed out back, next to the outhouse, is one place where they tinkered and experimented.
Wilbur and Orville and sister Katherine came to life the day I visited. (No, that’s not a real ghost behind them on the porch. The Village was all decorated for the big Halloween event that evening) The museum offered a theater piece… the brothers had just arrived home from North Carolina and their famous flight. They regaled the audience with tales of the past few days and with the journey to that point.
Next door is their bike shop, purchased by Henry Ford, foundation dirt and all, and carted to Michigan. Visitors to Dayton, Ohio today must be satisfied with a reproduction bike shop on the original site, run by the National Park Service. While the house and shop sat a few blocks apart, at Greenfield Village they sit together, both offering tangible evidence of engineering genius.
In the back room of the shop sits a reproduced ribbed wing section of the Wright Flyer, first to fly, as if the brothers have stepped out for a few minutes. I’ve always found the connection between riding a bicycle and flying fascinating. Innovation itself is as unpredictable as a pair of brothers–bicycle builders and printers–experimenting until they managed to fly and transforming the world as a result.