115 years ago today, the Wright brothers changed history

The 114th Anniversary of powered flight on Wright Memorial Hill. TY GREENLEES / STAFF
The 114th Anniversary of powered flight on Wright Memorial Hill. TY GREENLEES / STAFF

On a cold and windy morning 115 years ago today, Wilbur and Orville Wright changed history.

Starting at 10:35 a.m. on Dec. 17, 1903, they each made two controlled, sustained flights on a powered, heavier than air machine — the first ever. An anniversary ceremony is scheduled for today at the Wright Brothers National Memorial at Kitty Hawk, N.C., where the flights took place. But another is scheduled here, at the Wright Memorial atop Wright Brothers Hill on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

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Designed by the acclaimed Olmsted Brothers landscape architecture firm, the memorial includes a walled plaza and flagstone walkways surrounding a 17-foot-tall shaft made of North Carolina granite. It sits on a bed of Kitty Hawk sand and overlooks the Huffman Prairie Flying Field, where the Wright brothers continued their flying experiments after Kitty Hawk.

The C-141 Starlifter from the 445th Airlift Wing at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base flies over Wright Memorial Hill as part of a past commemoration of the anniversary of powered flight. TY GREENLEES/STAFF
The C-141 Starlifter from the 445th Airlift Wing at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base flies over Wright Memorial Hill as part of a past commemoration of the anniversary of powered flight. TY GREENLEES/STAFF

Civic leaders discussed a hometown memorial to the Wright brothers as far back as 1910. Early plans would have put it on Huffman Prairie. The Great Dayton Flood of 1913, World War I and the Great Depression caused delays and prompted a move to higher ground. In 1938, industrialist and philanthropist Edward A. Deeds took charge of the project and construction was soon underway. Orville Wright attended the dedication ceremony in 1940.

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Wright Brothers Hill is also home to six burial mounds thought to have been made by the Adena people sometime between 1,700 and 2,500 years ago. The National Park Service listed the mounds in the National Register of Historic Places as the Wright Brothers Memorial Mound Group in 1974. The memorial itself went on the list in 2016.

Wright-Patterson maintains the memorial, and the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park operates an adjacent interpretive center at 2380 Memorial Road. Visit https://www.nps.gov/daav/planyourvisit/visitorcenters.htm for directions and hours of operation.

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