Historian McCullough was drawn to Dayton and Wright Brothers history

‘He mined our photo collection on the Wright Brothers pretty extensively,’ Wright State archivist said in 2015

Historian David McCullough, the best-selling, award-winning author who died Sunday at 89, was no stranger to Dayton.

McCullough’s book, “The Wright Brothers,” was published by Simon & Schuster in 2015 to solid reviews and almost immediate acclaim. In fact, HBO and Playtone partners Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman went about acquiring the rights to the book before it landed on store shelves.

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McCullough told the Dayton Daily News in a 2015 interview that in researching his book he more than once visited Wright State University’s historical Wright Brothers archives and local museums, as well as any local sites that held Wright memorabilia.

In discussing the book, McCullough in 2015 visited Kettering Middle School and Books & Co.

Credit: Will Jones

Credit: Will Jones

Dayton’s favorite local brothers painstakingly took notes and photographs of their airplane-creating work, McCullough said.

“There’s no question whatsoever that the Wright Brothers were the first human beings to achieve flight in a motor-powered airplane,” he said in 2015. “They deserve all the credit they have received and then some.”

Brady Kress, Dayton History chief executive, said at the time that McCullough visited not just Wright State’s archives but Dayton History’s facilities and artifacts as well. Kress said he examined the Wright family Bible and the 1905 Wright Flyer III, which was the most original of the Wright airplanes still in existence.

“He was just tickled about getting up close” to those artifacts, Kress said then.

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Dawne Dewey, head of special collections and archives at WSU, remembered McCullough visiting the archives at the Paul Laurence Dunbar Library and speaking with staff, seeking their perspectives in a daylong visit. The author’s researcher also visited the university’s collection of Wright Brothers material more than once.

“David was in the archives looking for photographs to illustrate his book,” Dewey told this newspaper in 2015. “He mined our photo collection on the Wright Brothers pretty extensively.”

It may be hard to recall now, but McCullough’s book was released at a time when the Wrights’ pre-eminence as the real pioneers of piloted flight had been challenged by claims elsewhere.

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In June 2013, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy signed a bill that named Bridgeport resident and immigrant, Gustave Whitehead, as the first person to pilot a powered airplane.

Although Whitehead continues to have backers, not much is heard about him any longer. Most aviation historians believe that the brothers from Dayton should be considered the inventors of the first successful airplane. Their Wright Flyer was heavier-than-air, piloted and powered, able to take off and land under its own power and controllable along three axes.

“I discussed this with the most eminent scholars of aviation at the Smithsonian Institution,” McCullough told this newspaper in 2015. “I’ve studied what there is know about it myself. And the problem with that whole Whitehead claim is that there’s no evidence.”

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