Before they invented the airplane — before they even ran a business fixing bicycles — the Wright brothers wrote and published newspapers, of all things.
As printers between 1889 and 1899, the brothers followed and wrote about local events for at least four Dayton newspapers, among various other printing jobs.
Now, Dayton Metro Library and Wright State University Libraries Special Collections and Archives are digitizing what they believe is a complete run of all Wright-published papers so anyone can easily read them on the internet.
The papers have been preserved on microfilm but never before on the web in a text-searchable format. Close to two of three planned digitally scanned batches can be found in PDF form on Wright State’s CORE Scholar and the Dayton Metro Library’s Dayton Remembers web sites.
Wright State and the Dayton Metro Library have long held collections of the papers, said Dawne Dewey, the university’s head of special collections and archives. Taking this next step into the digital future made sense, she said.
Unfortunately, microfilm — the much older media used for decades to preserve the papers — scratches and degrades. Digitizing from the carefully kept originals would yield a “really good online offering of all the newspapers,” Dewey said.
“We decided to join forces,” she said. “About a year ago, we started talking about this project.”
Readers and researchers will get a glimpse of the Wrights’ world — and Dayton itself — about a decade before Dayton’s most famous brothers started seriously building and testing gliders and airplanes. They will find nearly 800 pages of advertisements, testimonials, stories about crime, about who’s leaving town, about who has the flu — even a list of local fire alarm boxes.
“There’s information about national events, there’s information about local events,” said Andrew Harris, a Wright State metadata librarian. “There are advertisements that show a variety of information about Dayton at the time.
“To try to summarize all that in a nice chunk is difficult.”
Wright State is one of the principal guardians of the Wrights’ documentary legacy, holding what Dewey believes may the largest collection of technical and personal records, family papers, letters, diaries, financial records, genealogical files, medals and more. Even the Wrights’ school report cards can be found here on the fourth floor of the Paul Laurence Dunbar Library.
Digitizing the Wrights’ newspapers doesn’t necessarily make that collection more complete, but it does make it more accessible, said those involved in the project.
The Core Scholar site also has more than 1,000 Wright-related photographs and plenty of other primary source material from the university archives, Dewey said.
Once the papers are digitized so they are full-text searchable, Harris reads through all the issues.
Digitizing work should be complete soon. Two of three scheduled batches are online and work is ongoing on the final group of papers.
Newspaper pages are scanned using an overhead, large-format scanner to capture the pages in one sweeping shot, said Jane Wildermuth, head of digital services for the WSU library. Pages are then processed, quality-checked and transformed into PDFs. Optical character recognition software makes the text on the pages fully searchable, she said.
Scholars can go to the sites and search for the words “aviation” or “airplane,” for example, to see how closely the Wrights followed early attempts at powered flight. They can also text search in any number of other ways.
The collection is made up of about 150 issues of The Midget, a school newspaper published in April 1886; the West Side News (published weekly); the Evening Item (published daily except for Sundays) and the Dayton Tattler, which the Wrights published for their friend, Dayton poet and novelist Paul Laurence Dunbar.
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