When Your Family History Connects with History

wright-brothers-first-flightsFirst flight, 120 feet in 12 seconds, 10:35 a.m.; Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Source: Library of Congress

On this day in 1903, the Wright brothers successfully flew an airplane for the first time in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The following year, after repairing their airplane, they conducted flight tests in Huffman Prairie, just outside their hometown of Dayton, Ohio that involved flying the craft in a complete circle – a significant achievement that proved that they had created a machine that could actually fly, not a simple glider.

Amos Ives Root, a resident of Medina, Ohio, had heard about the first flight and wanted to see the Wright brothers’ work for himself. He traveled to Dayton and introduced himself to the Wright brothers. They allowed him to watch their flights on Huffman Prairie. With their permission, Mr. Root published an article describing what he saw in his magazine, Gleanings in Bee Culture. His was the first accurate article about the Wright brothers’ success. Quotes and analysis about his article can be found here and here. The original article can be found here in this digital copy of the magazine on the Internet Archive, starting on page 36:

My great-grandparents, Caroline Jane Webber and her husband, Newell Elijah Gile, lived in Medina, Ohio before they moved to Kansas. Mr. Root, aside from publishing Gleanings, owned a factory in Medina that manufactured beehives. Lucy Adelia Washburn, Caroline Jane Webber Gile’s niece, worked at Root’s factory. She described briefly her experience as an employee in one of her letters to her aunt, uncle and cousins:

“Things are going on as usual at Roots’ now. I believe I told you that we had family prayers there every noon. We have bought an organ to aid in the singing, which is certainly a good thing.”

According to Wikipedia, Root held mandatory breaks throughout the day during which his employees were to sing hymns together and were forbidden to go to the local taverns. Such a work environment would be considered very admirable to the Webber/Washburn clan. Caroline at least was a member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and her father was a Methodist Minister. The family often quoted scripture in their letters to each other.

The Giles in Kansas subscribed to the Gleanings in Bee Culture magazine for at least one year in 1879, when the following words were written to them in a letter from the Washburns:

“Aunt Carrie I am real glad you like Gleanings why you write about it just like a subscriber already. By the way we have quite a number of subscribers in Kansas but I should think there would be very little honey there now on account of the drouth.

“Mamma sends you the Gleanings for 1 year will start this June No. [unreadable] today.”

I don’t know if the Giles were still reading Gleanings in 1905, but I like to picture “Aunt Carrie” or “Uncle Newt” sitting by the window and reading about the first flight of a real flying machine with wonder.

So my great grandmother’s niece’s boss witnessed one of the Wright brothers’ first flights. It’s fun to have bragging rights.

Oh, and one more thing. Here is the title page of a genealogy compiled by Lucy A Washburn, The Richard Webber Family. You will notice it was published by the A.I. Root Company, the same press that published the first accurate account of man’s first flight:

Richard Webber Family Title Page.PNG


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