Al Johnson

McCook Field

QUESTION:  The location of McCook Field in Dayton, Ohio is now home to Kettering Park, named after local innovator Charles Kettering.  Which of the following is NOT something Charles Kettering developed?
A)  Internal Combustion Engines
B)  Leaded Gas
C)  Electric Automotive Starters
D)  Freon for Refrigeration

All week long, the blog has been dedicated to telling the story of four men - Al Johnson, Orville Wright, Luzern Custer and John Macready. Of the four, posterity has only really been kind to Mr. Wright, although the accomplishments of the other three men deserve at very least a nod of appreciation. Of course, there is one obvious connection between all four men:  they were together on September 24th, 1924, when the photograph was taken. Of course, questions arise as to where they actually stood when an anonymous photographer captured the moment we look at today.  Clearly, John Macready is talking to someone out of frame. We don't know who they were, nor do we know many things: what time of day was it, who took the picture, and what sort of camera did they use.  Was it an American Kodak Brownie?  A British-made Hewit-Beaufort? A German Kinar? Another question we might ask is where the photograph was taken - this one we do feel confident we can answer.  It is highly likely these men were all at the McCook Field Aviation Experimentation Station in Dayton, Ohio. The field was opened in 1917, the same year (not coincidentally) that the United States became involved in World War I.  

Innovations in flying technology were needed to ensure victory in the Great War, and McCook became a vital site for them.  Airplanes were constructed nearby, and tested on the macadam runways of McCook. At this time, most airports more closely resembled mowed farms than modern airfields, so paved landing strips were quite a novelty.  After the war, improvements in air travel continued to be made at McCook, with men like John Macready risking their lives to ensure safe flights for future aviators. As airplanes became larger, McCook seemed to get smaller. Eventually, the Air Service threatened to move to Langley, Virginia to larger accommodations.  Dayton's leaders feared the loss of revenue and prestige the move would cause, so they acquired 4,520 acres of land not far from McCook, then donated it to the federal government.  President Calvin Coolidge accepted the gift and, in 1927, McCook Airfield shut down.  A new, larger airstrip opened called Wright Field, where the  future Wright-Patterson Air Force Base exists today. Wright-Patterson is still in service today, while McCook has become a site for leisure activities.  It would be unrecognizable to the men who flew into and out of the site one hundred years ago.

ANSWER:  A)  Internal Combustion Engines. He definitely worked to improve engines though.

Luzern Custer

QUESTION:  Who was Luzern Custer's Latin Tutor?
A)  Crassus
B)  Katherine Wright
C)  Wilbur Wright
D)  Orville Wright

The American Treasure Tour blog has talked about Luzern Custer before. He was a pretty amazing guy who we celebrate not only for having developed the Custer Chair we proudly display in our collection, but also because of his contributions to the burgeoning aviation industry during its early years.  Later in life, he created rides for amusement parks.  Born in 1888, Custer grew up in a family of innovators. His father, Levitt Ellsworth Custer, was a dentist/balloonist.  In fact, dad invented the first electric oven used to anneal (heat to toughen) gold crowns for fillings.  The senior Custer also inspired his son's love of ballooning as an afficionado himself, going up in the air numerous times.  Luzern followed in dad's footsteps and took to the air. Recognizing how difficult it was to register elevation changes while in the air, he created the Bubble Statoscope, which was so effective the U.S. military commissioned a number of them for their own use.  Then, of course, Custer developed his motorized wheelchair.  First inspired to assist the elderly get around, the chair proved of great benefit to wounded veterans after World War I.

The photograph we are honoring this week finds Luzern Custer third from the left, the only man smiling. Perhaps he is smiling because of pride in his accomplishments to date (he was 36 at the time of the photograph), or maybe because he was surrounded by men he admired.  To Custer's right stands the elder statesman of air travel by 1924 - Orville Wright.  Custer grew up going to the Wright's bicycle shop.  He would have been fifteen years old when the Wrights made their first successful flight in Kittyhawk, North Carolina, and most certainly witnessed some of their early experiments. He contributed some innovations to Wright's later advances in flight technology, too.  As a balloonist with patents under his belt in the business, he definitely participated in the aviation industry from its early days.


ANSWER:  B)  Katherine Wright, Orville and Wilbur's sister.

Orville Wright

QUESTION:  Orville and Wilbur Wright were two of seven siblings.  Twins Otis and Ida died in their infancy.  Which of the following three was NOT a Wright?
A)  Reuchlin
B)  Robin
C)  Lorin
D)  Katherine

The American Treasure Tour has many wonderful pieces on display throughout the collection, and we do what we can to share stories about as many of them as possible, both for those people we have the pleasure of hosting at our facility in Oaks and for our fans on the blog. Today, we begin a discussion of a photograph we discovered while researching the inventor behind our Custer Chair.  The picture captures a moment in time: September 5, 1924.  There are four men posing - two pilots and two innovators. In their day, they were all celebrated to varying degrees, but none so much as the man second from the left. Today, he is the only one remembered in our history books.  His name was Orville Wright.

The story of how Orville Wright and his brother Wilbur conquered the air has been told and retold so many times, that dedicating great amounts of time describing their great feats would be a redundancy here. Few people who know of the brothers realize that Orville outlived his brother by a full thirty-six years.  The great success of the Wrights in their airplane empire was regularly tarnished by competitors who tried to steal their patents, so Orville and Wilbur were compelled to stop their experiments and dedicate their time to dealing with lawsuits and maintaining their business affairs. It took a toll on both brothers, but for Wilbur it proved deeply taxing. In May of 1912, after spending long stretches of time traveling overseas to deal with their company interests, he returned home complaining of ill health. It's thought that bad shellfish may have contributed to his ultimately fatal illness.  He was only 45 when he died, and his brother was compelled to take over sole control of the Wright Company. Lacking Wilbur's business acumen or his patience, Orville sold the company after five years and essentially retired from the aviation business, becoming instead its elder statesman and appearing at events such as Macready's record-setting flight at which the top picture was taken.  Shortly before he died in 1948, he claimed that he had no regrets over his contribution to developing air travel, but he did feel great sorrow in the wake of World War II and the massive amount of destruction brought about by men flying in heavier-than-air machines.

ANSWER:  B)  Robin.  Okay, there have certainly been Robin Wrights, including the star of Princess Bride. But she wasn't a sister of the famed Wright Brothers of airplane fame, so there's that.