Wright Brothers 1909 Dayton Homecoming Celebration Subject of Old Postcard
By Judy Deeter
DAYTON - An old postcard at the Troy-Miami County Public Library Local History Library shows a nighttime view of what is referred to as the Court of Honor from the Dayton Homecoming Celebration for aviators Orville and Wilbur Wright. The event was held on June 17 and 18, 1909. Some sources say the Homecoming Celebration was the greatest party ever held in Dayton.
The postcard, published by S.S. Kresge, has a Dayton postmark dated January 3, 1911 (more are pictured below). It was sent to T.W. Engle of R.F.D. #6, Troy. It has no sender’s name. At the end of the card’s note, it simply has the word “goodby”.
The Wright Brothers changed the world of aviation when they made the first successful powered aircraft flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina on December 17, 1903. In the years following that flight, the brothers had become aviation celebrities and gave flying demonstrations as far away as France. Yet, they had never received a formal recognition of their flying feats in Dayton, their hometown. By 1908, that was changed. Plans were then put in place to have a celebration downtown Dayton in 1909.
Not everyone thought such a celebration was a good idea. It has been reported that even Wilbur Wright did not want all the attention. The book Gentleman Amateurs An Appreciation of Wilbur and Orville Wright by Mark Bernstein, Produced by the Dayton Daily News, 2002, (page 204) says, “No power on earth, however, can stop a festival committee whose time has come. The event came off on June 17-18, 1909. Wilbur and Orville reviewed parades, shook hands at receptions and listened to concerts. They received medals from representatives of the federal government, the state government and the municipal government. If they found anything objectional—such as the huge portraits of them, rendered in exploding fireworks—they did not say so.”
Miami Union newspaper columnist John Sylvestor, Jr, did not think such a celebration was necessary. He wrote an article in the May 27, 1909 edition of the paper which says, “They (the Wright Brothers) are said to be very modest boys and do not care for the big fuss the city of Dayton is making over them…I am agreed with the Wrights that there is no call for so much tomfoolery.”
Several military groups were in Dayton for the event. The Miami Union newspaper of June 17, 1909 tells of a Covington unit that was there. It says, “Co. A of Third regiment was ordered to Dayton for two days’ service at the Wright Bros. celebration, leaving here (Covington) on Wednesday and returning on Friday.”
The Court of Honor was located in Dayton on North Main Street between Third Street and the Soldier’s Monument. A description of the area is in (MS-192) Andrew S. Iddings Wright Brothers Homecoming Celebration Collection, Wright State University Libraries. It says of the Court of Honor, At the beginning and end of this section (of North Main Street) were four large triumphal arches (as seen on the front of the post card), sculpted by Joseph A. Horchert, with columns between. The sculpture depicts, the “Goddess of Victory,” a seated woman holding a model of the Wright Flyer (the Wright Brothers’ plane) raised in her right hand supporting a globe in her left hand. Horchert worked with Henry Kabierske who designed most of the decorations for the event and worked for Fischer and Sons, of Philadelphia.
The lighting of the Court of Honor is interesting too. Outdoor lighting was still in its infancy in 1909. Street lights were still relatively new in many area towns. Yet, lights from the Court of Honor and the Homecoming Celebration itself were seen from distances well away from the event. The Miami Union newspaper of June 24, 1909 has a column from a place named “Center”, thought to be in southern Miami County. The newspaper reported that a search light from the Wright Brothers celebration could be seen from there.
The Homecoming Celebration also included such things as speeches, a parade, a “living flag” of 2,000 children wearing “proper-colored” clothing, fireworks over the Great Miami River and two columns of flames 78 feet high erected by the Dayton Gas & Fuel Company (at the corners of Main and Monument and at Main and Warren). The Court of Honor was one of multiple sites in the downtown Dayton area where events took place. Other places cited in historical records were the Dayton YMCA and the Montgomery County Fairgrounds. An article published in the Dayton Daily News Local Section on May 27, 2022 gives many more details about the Wright Brothers Homecoming Celebration.
The Homecoming Celebration was an amazing event. This old postcard features just a small view of this great Dayton party.
The following images are from the Andrew S. Iddings Wright Brothers Homecoming Celebration Collection, from the Wright State University Libraries. To view the full collection, click HERE.
Wilbur Wright (left) and Orville Wright (right)
Orville Wright (right) and his father, Bishop