Fire Damages Historic Wright Brothers Aircraft Factory

The early morning blaze at the sprawling complex is under investigation.

The former Wright Brothers factory in Dayton, Ohio, as it appeared in 2014. [Credit: Library of Congress]

A fire early Sunday morning damaged a group of commercial buildings that include a former factory where Orville and Wilbur Wright manufactured aircraft from 1910 to 1915. The National Register of Historic Places added the former factory to its list in 2019, and it is known as the oldest purpose-built aircraft factory in the U.S.

Dayton Fire Department officials said firefighters deployed to the scene around 2:30 a.m. following reports of a fire at the buildings. The department said there is no report or damage estimate yet, in part because the blaze is under investigation. Firefighters remained on the scene more than 12 hours after the initial alarm. According to numerous reports, damage to the complex is significant.

In a press release, fire officials said the intensity of the fire throughout the network of buildings kept firefighters from entering. They used aerial ladders to direct water through roof openings while crews on the ground fought the fire from outside. Firefighters from throughout Dayton and surrounding communities responded to the fire, officials said.

“We are deeply saddened by the fire that damaged our historic Wright Company airplane factory, the first purpose-built buildings for the aviation industry,” said Mackensie Wittmer, executive director of the National Aviation Heritage Area, in a Facebook post. “We are grateful to the fire department for their quick and brave response, and we are working to assess the extent of the damage and the impact on our heritage.”

The organization has been working toward preserving and restoring the factory as part of the Wright Brothers’ historical timeline in the development of aviation in Dayton. The brothers formed the Wright Company in November 1909 and operated from rented space before Building 1 of the factory. The company operated briefly in rented space before completing the factory’s Building 1 in 1910. Building 2 followed in 1911, the heritage group said.

According to the National Aviation Heritage Area, the Wright Company built about 120 airplanes from the time the factory opened until Orville sold his stake in the company in 1915, following Wilbur’s death in 1912, the organization said.

The Wright Company produced approximately 120 airplanes in 13 different models. It introduced industrial aviation to several individuals who later became aviation leaders. Among them were Frank H. Russell (1878–1947) and Grover C. Loening (1888–1976). Orville sold his interest in the company in 1915, following Wilbur’s death in 1912.

The original factory changed hands over the years, with companies including Dayton Wright Airplane Co. and automaker General Motors Corp. operating there while expanding the number of buildings and employees. Car parts company Delphi last occupied the space before shutting down in 2008.

Jonathan Welsh is a private pilot who worked as a reporter, editor and columnist with the Wall Street Journal for 21 years, mostly covering the auto industry. His passion for aviation began in childhood with balsa-wood gliders his aunt would buy for him at the corner store. Follow Jonathan on Twitter @JonathanWelsh4

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