The Wright brothers couldn’t have gotten off the ground in a powered aircraft without Charles E. Taylor.
History has often taken little note of the airplane mechanic who built the first engine for Orville and Wilbur Wright’s first aircraft that took flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C., on Dec. 17, 1903.
Monday, Taylor got a place in history alongside the famous Dayton brothers with the unveiling of a bronze bust in front of the 1909 Wright Military Flyer at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.
“Charlie was a very humble person, never sought the limelight and over history, history kind of forgot the men and women behind the scenes who maintained the aircraft,” said Ken MacTiernan, founder of the San Diego-based Aircraft Maintenance Technicians Association and which raised $6,000 to have the bronze bust unveiled at the museum.
Taylor worked in the Wrights’ bicycle shop in Dayton and hand-built the first airplane engine after a slew of automakers rejected the brothers’ request to build one.
Taylor had other firsts in history: He was the first airport manager, beginning at Huffman Prairie where the Wright brothers perfected controlled flight, and he was the first mechanic of a cross country flight during a 49-day trek from New York to Los Angeles in 1911, said his great grandson, Charles E. Taylor II, 49, of Chicago.
“Everybody knows that the Wright brothers did a lot with the invention of the first airplane,” Taylor said. “But when it came to the propulsion, the engine, which was a significant part of that invention, their bicycle mechanic — the third cog in the wheel — …was the one who provided that part of the invention.”
Centerville artist Virginia K. Hess designed and created the likeness of Taylor cast in bronze.
“This is the highlight of my life to be able to do this,” she said. She’s made other busts of Taylor in museums around the country and in Europe, such as the National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center outside Washington, D.C.
Taylor stood with Wrights in the early years of the brothers’ airplane company in Dayton, and their travels to the East Coast and Europe, said Dawne Dewey, Wright State University head of special collections and archives.
“He was fixing, adjusting, replacing parts, tweaking Wright airplanes and I can just imagine how greasy and dirty his hands were at the end of every day,” she said. In 1956, Taylor died at age 86 in California.
Reuben W. Taylor, 81, of Glen Ellyn, Ill., Taylor’s grandson, spent the summer of 1941 with his grandfather in Dearborn, Mich. At the time, Charles Taylor worked at Greenfield Village, an historical town Henry Ford created to immortalize artifacts of American science, industry and agriculture. Charles Taylor helped reconstruct the Wright brothers bicycle shop relocated to Greenfield Village from Dayton.
Taylor recalled his grandfather “wildly” waving his arms one morning to flag down Ford as a chauffeur drove him over a covered bridge in the village. The airplane mechanic wanted the auto magnate to meet his grandson.
Reuben Taylor said he also briefly met Orville Wright that summer, though he wasn’t exactly overwhelmed. “To me, at age 8, this was more, ‘I’m meeting a couple of old guys,’” Taylor said Monday.