I’ve been involved in Dayton, history, and Dayton’s history…for about 10 years now. So sometimes I forget that there used to be a time when I didn’t know very much at all about the Wright Brothers. Sure, I knew that they “invented the airplane” (so simplistic!).
Yes, indeed, there was a once time when I was barely aware of what actual names of the individual Wright Brothers were — Wilbur and Orville — much less which one was which (Orville’s got the mustache!) or what year they made that first flight (1903!) or that they owned a bicycle shop.
But even those who are at least vaguely aware that the Wright Brothers built bicycles before they built airplanes, might not know that even before that, they operated a printing business.
Young Orville and his friend Ed Sines started Sines & Wright printed the lone issue of The Midget in 1886. Later, Wilbur joined forces with his brother under the name Wright & Wright Printers. They built their own printing presses, and in addition to doing all kinds of job printing, they printed three publications of their own: the West Side News (1889-1891), the Evening Item (1890), and Snap-Shots at Current Events (1894-1896).
The Dayton Metro Library has original copies of most issues of all four of these publications — the copies that were kept by the Wright Brothers themselves in their own collection and were donated to the library after Orville’s death in 1948. These originals were microfilmed for preservation several years ago, and last year, the library had that microfilm digitized to enhance access to the newspapers, which comprise an important and interesting Wright Brothers resource.
Please visit the Wright Brothers Newspapers digital collection to browse and search the papers. Here are the specifics of what can be found in the digitized, online collection:
- The Midget : A newspaper published by Edwin Sines and Orville Wright of the firm Sines & Wright. Only one issue was ever printed. The Midget, vol. 1, no. 1 (Apr. 1886).
- West Side News : A weekly newspaper focused on events in West Dayton. West Side News, vol. 1, no. 1-52 (Mar. 1, 1889-Mar. 22, 1890) ; vol. 2, no. 1-2 (Mar. 29, 1890-Apr. 5,1890) ; vol. ? (May 2, 1891).
- Evening Item : A daily newspaper that focused on world events. The Evening Item, no. 1-78 (Apr. 30, 1890-July 30, 1890).
- Snap-Shots at Current Events : A weekly magazine aimed at cyclists in Dayton. Snap-Shots at Current Events, vol. 1, no. 1-13 (Oct. 20, 1894-Jan. 10, 1895); vol. 2, no. 1-6 (Feb. 29, 1896-Apr. 17, 1896).
The original newspapers can be found at the Dayton Metro Library, 215 E. Third St., Dayton, OH 45402, in the Local History Room, MS-001 Wright Brothers Collection.
To learn more about the Wright Brothers as printers and to see their shop and some of their equipment, I highly recommend visiting the Wright-Dunbar Interpretive Center at the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park (corner of Third and Williams Street, Dayton). I visited there in 2008; you can see some of my pictures of the Wright Brothers print shop here. (There are several so make sure you click “next” from that first picture.)
You can also learn more about the Wright Brothers as printers at this great online exhibit from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum; and The Other Career of Wilbur and Orville Wright by Charlotte & August Brunsman, online at the Centennial of Flight web site.
Large and significant collections of original Wright Brothers materials can also be found at Wright State University, Special Collections & Archives, and at the Library of Congress. And don’t forget the exhibition at the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum.
And finally, if you’re looking for a comprehensive but also pleasantly readable biography of the Wright Brothers, you’ve got to check out Tom Crouch’s Bishop’s Boys: A Life of Wilbur and Orville Wright (find at a library, or at Amazon).