The Dayton, Ohio area is rich in aviation history…you may have heard of two brothers named Orville and Wilbur who were credited with inventing and flying the first successful airplane back in 1903. Those brothers, the Wrights, did all their design work and much of their testing right here in Dayton. And do you know where they did their inventing and brainstorming, fabrication and planning? That’s right, their bicycle shop…in addition to a number of other businesses, the Wright Brothers built their own line of bicycles and were able to fund their aviation experiments using the proceeds from their bike shops. Also, they recruited their shop employee/mechanic, Charlie Taylor, to help fabricate parts and the first motors used in their flying endeavors. So, it’s fair to say that bicycles were partially responsible for aviation as we know it!
The Wright Cycle Company occupied five different storefronts, most roughly within a block or two of each other, and only one remains in its original location at 22 South Williams Street in downtown Dayton. That location is part of the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Park, and I took a trip there a few weeks ago to take photos to share with you. Let’s take a look at the shop, shall we?
The Wright Cycle Company is part of the Dayton Aviation Park complex, which also contains an interpretive center, a replica of the Wright Brothers’ printing shop and a memorial to noted African-American poet and essayist Paul Laurence Dunbar. Dunbar was a childhood friend and neighbor of the Wrights, and he wrote and edited a newspaper printed by the Wrights in their printshop.
The inside of the shop serves both as a replica of how the shop would have been set up back in the late 1890s as well as providing interpretive displays covering early bicycle history. Here, the sales counter has been recreated to appear as it might have when the shop was open for bicycle sales:
As with any decent bike shop, the mechanic’s area is prominent. Here, in addition to building and repairing bikes, mechanic Charlie Taylor also spent some time fabricating parts for the first airplanes. The shop’s repair area has been faithfully recreated with period tools and machines:
Here’s a case full of tools and accessories…the types of items a savvy bike-shop owner would encourage his customers to buy as part of the bike deal:
This is a price list of the top-of-the-line model the Wright Cycle Company produced, the “Van Cleve” (named after a family friend). The “St. Clair” was a less-expensive model, and from what I recall, there was one other model produced by the brothers:
For more detail of the price list, please visit the Wright Brothers Aviation virtual museum page here.
Here’s a reproduction of one of the advertisements for the Van Cleve. Van Cleves came in black or red, but custom colors were available for an extra fee:
You’ll be pleased to know that if you choose to ride your bike to the shop, the National Park Service has provided whimsical bike racks for visitors:
Now, here’s a bit of history on the bikes themselves: when I first moved to Dayton, I was told by a bike-collecting friend that there were no known existing Wright Bros. bikes. I found that a bit surprising, so I asked the park ranger who led my tour about that. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that there are FIVE known bikes out there…one at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, two at Carillon Park here in Dayton, one at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan…and one other in a location I cannot recall. I’ve seen the one at the Air Force Museum with my own eyes, and it’s a beauty. I found it a bit disappointing that this Wright Cycle Co. shop only has replicas of the bikes, not the “real thing”. But, I have to say that the replicas are stunning as well.
I heartily recommend a visit to the Wright Cycle Company if you’re in the area…as well as the associated interpretive centers at the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Park complex. Visiting here reminds me of how bicycles have the power to change the world for the better.