Many of us have lived in Dayton for most or all of our lives. However, not everyone is aware of some of the historic jewels that the city holds. Many inventors that have changed the world and society have Dayton roots.
The Wright Brothers
Wilbur and Orville Wright were born in 1867 and 1871 in Indiana and Dayton, Ohio, respectively. Surprisingly, neither of the brothers finished high school or went to college, though they did prove to be intelligent. They began publishing their own newspaper, the West Side News in 1889. Three years later, they started a bike shop, where they sold their very own bicycle, the Wright Flyer.
The Wright Brothers had been interested in flight since they were young. They built the Wright Flyer I in Dayton. They went to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina to begin testing their work in 1900. After finding success in the first powered airplane in 1903, they began further testing in Dayton at Huffman Field. In 1909, the two started the Wright Company, where they built airplanes and also held a flight school at Huffman Field.
When Ira Reynolds started working with his son, Lucius Reynolds, in his printing business in 1867, it became the name it has today, Reynolds and Reynolds. The company started out small with only seven employees total. Its main focus was on standardized business forms and it also had a great impact on record keeping.
It was two years after Reynolds and Reynolds got its name that Ira Reynolds came up with the removable and reusable hardcover for reproducing sales books that had an insertable carbon leaf. This greatly sped up the process of creating copies of the papers.
He went on to create more types of forms, having four patents total in 1874, and the company was doing business all over the country. In 1927, Reynolds and Reynolds became increasingly involved in the automobile industry when it worked with General Motor’s Chevrolet division.
As technology advanced decades later, the company began to produce computer programs to serve similar purposes of its forms.
William Whiteley was born in Springfield, Ohio in 1935. He worked with his father at his agricultural business, which Whiteley later took over and renamed the Champion Machine Company.
Whiteley acquired forty-two patents for agricultural inventions in his life. He created the early model of the future Champion Combined Reaper and Mower with Sweep Rake in the 1850s, which became very popular. The company eventually had to move to a larger Springfield facility to keep up necessary production and had over 2,000 employees.
At the time, it was the world’s biggest for this type of production. When the 1880s came around, the Champion Machine Company had become the world’s top agricultural machinery producer.
Charles Kettering: Electric Starter
Charles Kettering was born in Loudonville, Ohio in 1876 and moved to Dayton after achieving a degree in engineering from Ohio State University in 1904. He worked for the National Cash Register Company (NCR) and had a part in creating the first electric cash register. Kettering went on to establish the Dayton Engineering Laboratory Company (Delco) in 1909.
At Delco, Kettering focused on inventions related to the automobile, such as the electric light for driving in the dark. He is especially known for the electric starter, which saved drivers from having to start their engine manually. Kettering came up with many more inventions in his lifetime, being granted over 185 patents. He also received 29 honorary degrees from colleges or academies across the United States. He is credited with helping bring the automobile to what it is today.
John Balsley was born in 1823 and worked as a carpenter in Dayton. He is known for inventing the folding step ladder. Previously, step ladders were straight and hard to store. Balsley fixed this problem by fixing hinges to the top of his own ladder, allowing it to fold. He received a patent for this ladder on Jan. 7, 1862. Balsley also built the six-bedroom Balsley House in 1877. People can now reserve a stay at the house in Oregon District.
Joseph Desch received an electrical engineering degree from the University of Dayton in 1929. Desch went on to help the United States and the Allies to triumph in World War II. His most notable achievement was breaking the code of Germany’s Enigma machine, which used rotor wheels and a plugboard to create encrypted messages. The United States Navy reached out to the NCR, where Desch worked at the time, to build Bombes, which would decode Germany’s messages. Desch was made leader of this assignment and began work in 1942.
Towards the end of that year, the British had found a way to read the messages, but it took time to do so. By spring of the following year, Desch came up with a Bombe that successfully worked more quickly.
He had spent many long hours and solved difficult problems to complete this task. Desch’s Bombes were produced right out of Dayton by the NCR, helping the Allies defeat Germany.