The future of a historic building where the Wright brothers once built airplanes in Dayton remains in doubt after a fire that burned most of the day Sunday.
Here’s what you should know about its history.
Wilbur and Orville Wright built their first experimental airplanes in the back of their bicycle shop at 1127 W. Third St. In 1909, they then went on to form the Wright Company, which produced around 120 airplanes in 13 different models and introduced industrial aviation.
The first airplane factory in the U.S. opened in 1910 on the site off West Third Street. A second building was completed in 1911.
Their production capacity was four airplanes a month.
In 1911, Lieutenant B.D. Foulors, a United States Army pilot, visited the Wright brothers factory and predicted the general use of the airplane by the army.
A 1913 Dayton Daily News article reported that the factory was “engaged on government work, but not running a large force, upward of 30 being at work at present, but anticipates an improved business soon. That it will bag some of the contracts for army flyers is not questioned.”
Wilbur Wright died in 1912, and Orville Wright decided to sell the company in 1915. In 1916, a new merged company was created as the Wright-Martin Company. The venture, which moved operations to New York, was short lived and ended in 1919.
The factory sites were acquired by General Motors in 1919, and for most of their existence were home to auto parts manufacturing, not aviation production.
During the late 1970s and early 1980s, design and production of the first air bags for GM cars were designed in the old Wright Brothers factory.
The building later became part of the Delphi auto parts Home Avenue automotive complex where hundreds of people were employed. The Delphi automotive complex closed in 2008 and all Delphi structures were cleared away in 2014.
In a 2016, Pulitzer Prize-winning author David McCullough, who wrote the 2015 book “The Wright Brothers,” visited Dayton and said, “These are symbolic or emblematic structures in that they contain a story of importance not just to this community but to the country and to the world.”
Dayton approved purchasing the Delphi property in 2018, and the Wright Co. factory was placed on the National Register of Historic Places the following year. The site is also part of the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park. The park service didn’t consider the Wright Company factory when it first established the park in 1992 in part because GM, then the site’s owner, wouldn’t participate in discussions.
A partnership established between the city of Dayton and the National Aviation Heritage Alliance in March 2022 to preserve the historic factory buildings sought to create a new public cultural facility at the site.