The Wright Brothers and Huntington University

Rev. Milton Wright, father of aviation pioneers Orville and Wilbur Wright, was instrumental in the founding of Huntington University. As Bishop of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, Milton Wright laid the cornerstone of the school's first building in August, 1896, and offered the prayer of dedication for the University in September, 1897. 

The years between the University's founding in 1897 and the Wright brothers' first flight in 1903 were tumultuous ones for the Wright family. During the time that Orville and Wilbur conducted their most important aviation experiments, their father was embroiled in a serious controversy facing the United Brethren Church. Wilbur Wright traveled to Huntington on several occasions to assist his father during this crucial period. 

Wright Hall, a contemporary residence hall on the campus of Huntington University, is named in Bishop Wright's honor. In its lobby hangs a plaque bearing a unique bit of technological history -- a swatch of the original fabric covering from the first Wright Flyer. 

The plaque on which the fabric is mounted bears an inscription explaining its history: 

"When Orville Wright prepared the 1903 Wright flyer for public exhibition in 1928 he replaced the original fabric because it had been damaged by submersion in flood waters in 1913. He covered the flying surfaces with new fabric of identical material. After Orville’s death in 1948, his executors found some of the original wing coverings carefully preserved and labeled in his laboratory at 15 North Broadway in Dayton, Ohio. This piece of fabric is from the section that covered the lower left wing of the first Wright aeroplane on December 17, 1903. On that day, at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Wilbur and Orville Wright made the world’s first free, controlled and sustained flights in a power-driven heavier-than-air flying machine."

The rare gift was given by Wilkinson "Wick" Wright of Dayton, Ohio, the great grandson of Bishop Milton Wright and grand-nephew of aviation pioneers Orville and Wilbur Wright. When he presented the plaque he said, "as a reminder and a testimonial that Milton Wright’s concepts of a good education have proven to be remarkably sound over the years." 

Sen. John Glenn carried another piece of the Wrights' wing fabric aboard his 1998 flight aboard the space shuttle Discovery. "That stained bit of cloth symbolizes the curiosity that is at the heart of all progress," Glenn told Parade Magazine (June 29, 2003). "Someone has to think about how to do things differently, or believe there just may be 'a better way.' But progress comes when one not only thinks about it but also acts on that wonder." 

And that's exactly what Bishop Milton Wright did when he helped launch Huntington University in 1897. Wright believed the very best education would integrate high academic standards with vibrant Christian faith. He had broadly educated his children in the sciences, ethics, history, literature, and theology while nurturing their moral character and cultivating their faith. Huntington University would offer such an education provide to generations of students to come.

Related Resources

The History of Huntington University

Pictorial History from Centennial Alumni Directory 
United Brethren Historical Center 

Bishop Milton Wright

Fall 2003 issue of Huntington College Magazine (PDF) 
2002-2003 Annual Report to Donors (PDF) 
Tour of Wright family and United Brethren sites: July 17-20, 2003 
United Brethren Historical Center 
The Bishop's Boys by Tom D. Crouch 
Wright Rumor: The Wright Brothers in California 
The Writings of Milton Wright 

Orville and Wilbur Wright

Fall 2003 issue of Huntington College Magazine (PDF)
Wright State University Special Collections
Papers of Wilbur and Orville Wright (Library of Congress)
Library of Congress resources
Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum
Reliving the Wright Way: NASA
Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village: Wright Brothers Display

The Centennial of Flight

The Bishop and His Boys Historical Tour: July 17-20, 2003
Wright Brothers Museum in Dayton, Ohio
U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission First Flight Centennial Foundation
Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum
Wright Brothers Aeorplane Company and Museum of Pioneer Aviation