Historical Background

The Wright Brothers Collection was deeded to Wright State University in 1975 by the Wright Family. The initial collection was described in The Wright Brothers Collection: A Guide to the Technical, Business and Legal, Genealogical, Photographic, and Other Archives at Wright State University, published in 1977. Since that time, numerous additions to the collection and donations of related collections have necessitated the revision and updating of the original collection inventory. A bound inventory to the collection was published in 2003, the centennial year of the Wrights' first successful, controlled powered flight, which offered a detailed and more complete guide to the papers of the Wright Family housed at Wright State University. Additional materials were added to the collection since 2003, however, so the collection inventory available online is the most current and up-do-date inventory to this extensive collection.

When Orville Wright passed away on Jan. 30, 1948, his will stated that the executors should select which institution or institutions they deemed appropriate to receive the papers of Wilbur and Orville Wright. The Library of Congress was chosen to receive a major portion of the collection. They examined the material, selecting approximately 100 printed items to supplement their own holdings in aeronautics, 303 glass plate negatives of photographs documenting the Brothers' aeronautical achievements, and correspondence between the Wrights and Octave Chanute, as well as other individuals involved in aeronautics at that time. The Library of Congress also selected additional photographs documenting the Wrights' family life and correspondence between family members.

The remaining books, journals, and pamphlets accumulated by the Wright Brothers remained with their estate. Thousands of positive prints, many made directly from the glass plates selected by the Library of Congress, along with other prints sent to the Wrights by other photographers, remained in Dayton, along with numerous albums, certificates and awards. The collection also included the papers of their father, Bishop Milton Wright, consisting of his diaries, correspondence, essays, church papers, and genealogical files. Also still in the estate were the financial records of the Wrights and a variety of family papers documenting the activities of Wright family members. After the removal of the materials to the Library of Congress, the four children of Lorin Wright, brother to Wilbur and Orville Wright, each made a token payment of $100 to purchase equal shares, settling the estate. Thus Milton Wright, Horace Wright, Ivonette Wright Miller, and Leontine Wright Jameson inherited the remaining Wright papers, as well as other property, such as the Wright mansion, Hawthorn Hill, in the Dayton suburb of Oakwood. The papers came into the possession of Ivonette Wright Miller, who served as semi-official Wright family historian, and whose husband, Harold S. Miller, was a co-executor of the estate.

The Millers, as well as the other Wright heirs, desired that the papers remain in the Dayton area in a repository conducive to research and exhibition. When Wright State University expressed interest in acquiring the papers, the family responded positively. On May 2, 1974, a preliminary deposit agreement between the heirs and the University was executed. The collection was loaned to the University and an appraisal was requested. On Dec. 19, 1975, a final deed of gift was signed by Ivonette Wright Miller, Leontine Wright Jameson, Horace A. Wright, Milton Wright, Jr., and Wilkinson Wright, making the Department of Special Collections and Archives in the Wright State University Libraries the permanent repository for the remainder of the papers from the Wright Family.

Patrick B. Nolan, then Head of the Special Collections and Archives Department, and John A. Zamonski, Assistant Professor of English at Central State University, organized and described the collection in The Wright Brothers Collection: A Guide to the Technical, Business and Legal, Genealogical, Photographic, and other Archives at Wright State University, published in 1977. Thanks to their efforts, this guide provided valuable access to an important era in aviation history.

Since the original donation in 1975, there have been numerous additions of material to the collection from Wright family members and other individuals. Ivonette Wright Miller, niece of the Wright Brothers, donated her substantial collection of Wright Family materials handed down to her through her father Lorin Wright. Marianne Miller Hudec, Ivonette's daughter, continued to enrich the collection through additional photographs, albums, books, and personal papers of the family. Marion Wright and her late husband, Wilkinson Wright, grand nephew of the Wright Brothers, added many valuable books, photographs and documents to the collection, such as Orville Wright's estate files. A collection of letters from Katharine Wright to her friend Agnes Beck were donated by Margaret Rehling, Agnes Beck's daughter.

The University has become the repository for related collections, such as photographs from the Dayton Wright Company, engine drawings from the Wright Aeronautical Corporation, and numerous letters and photos from related families and friends. The Dayton Art Institute, owner of the Wright Brothers collection of medals, deeded them to Wright State University in 1976 in order to reunite them with the main collection. Through the generosity and encouragement of Wright Family members and others, the collection has grown to be one of the most complete collections of Wright Brothers material in the world.

Wright State University, named for Wilbur and Orville Wright, is a dynamic memorial to the achievements of the Wright Brothers. Founded in 1964 as the Dayton campus of Miami University and The Ohio State University, Wright State University became a state university in 1967. It was built on land deeded in part by Wright Patterson Air Force Base and lies within a mile of Huffman Prairie, the site of Simms Station where Orville and Wilbur perfected their flying machines in 1904 and 1905. The memorial to them on Wright Brothers Hill is adjacent to campus, and the United States Air Force Museum is nearby. Today, the Wright Brothers Collection and related Wright Family collections at Wright State University rank as one of the most complete and essential collections for the study of the Wright Brothers, the invention of flight, and the history of the Wright Family.