Vietnam Veterans of America
In March 1796 a group of twelve settlers known as the Thompson Party traveled from Cincinnati up the Great Miami River via pirogue—a long canoe-like boat formed from wood planks. They landed at what is now St. Clair Street where they found two small camps of Native Americans. Two other groups of settlers traveled overland and arrived several days later, resulting in Dayton being founded on April 1, 1796.
One of those settlers was a surveyor named Israel Ludlow. He surveyed and platted the town along the Great Miami River near the mouth of the Mad River. Within nine months, more than 40 log cabins and frame houses had been built. By the end of 1797 Daniel C. Cooper had laid out Mad River Road, the first overland connection between Cincinnati and Dayton. The city was named after Jonathan Dayton, a captain in the Revolutionary War from New Jersey and the youngest signer of the U.S. Constitution.
Ohio became a state in 1803. The young city grew rapidly as more settlers arrived to begin a new life in the Northwest Territory. Dayton became heavily involved in Ohio’s early industrialization and quickly grew to become the center for a variety of industries. In the 1880s John H. Patterson opened the National Cash Register Company, today known as NCR. Patterson’s invention quickly caught on and his company grew to become a world leader in the manufacturing and supply of cash counting and financial processing machinery.
Since 1880 Dayton residents have filed for more than 100 patents for their inventions. More patents per capita were filed in Dayton than anywhere else in the world. By 1914 Dayton was known as the City of a Thousand Factories. Around the same time, Edward Deeds, the founder of Delco, and Charles Kettering, the inventor of electric starters for automobiles, founded the Dayton Engineers Club to share innovative ideas. The list of Dayton inventions, too many to mention here, include the airplane, cash register, radar detector, parachute, bar code scanner, artificial heart, inkjet printer, carbonless copy paper, and safety glass.
Today, the Dayton Walk of Fame, part of the Wright-Dunbar Historic District, recognizes individuals for their outstanding contributions to the community, nation, and the world. More than 180 pavers honoring Dayton’s historic leaders, inventors, and artists are located along West Third Street in Downtown Dayton.
THE WRIGHT FLYER
Perhaps the most famous Dayton inventors were the Wright brothers. Orville and Wilbur Wright opened a bicycle shop in Dayton in 1892. It was in that small shop that the brothers imagined their aerodynamic principles and began experimenting with their first gliders. In 1900 they traveled to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, to continue their experiments with gliders, develop their flying skills, and plan for their first manned flight. Kitty Hawk was chosen because of its regular breezes and soft-landing terrain.
Their experience with building bicycles plus their mechanical knowledge helped them develop their first flying machine. Their first U.S. patent did not claim invention of a flying machine, however, but a system of aerodynamic controls that manipulated a flying machine’s surfaces. They proved their theories on December 17, 1903, when they made the first controlled, sustained flight of a powered, heavier-than-air aircraft—the Wright Flyer.
In 1904 and 1905 the Wright brothers returned to Dayton and talked a farmer into letting them use 86 acres of his boggy prairie land to conduct more flight experiments. They expanded in 1910 and started a flight school. More than one hundred of America’s first pilots learned to fly here, including Hap Arnold, the first commander of the U.S. Air Force.
In 1917 the U.S. Army purchased the property and adjoining land and renamed it Wright Field, and it became a training ground for Army pilots. When the U.S. Air Force was created, the field was merged with Patterson Field to become Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, now home of the largest air museum in the world. Dayton earned the sometimes-disputed label of “Birthplace of Aviation” because of the Wright brothers’ contributions and the growth of aviation in the military.
A Battlefield PROMISE
Dayton is also home to VVA Chapter 97, established in 1983. The story of the chapter’s Vietnam veterans memorial comes with the fulfillment of a promise. “If you make it home and I don’t, promise you won’t forget me.” These words, spoken on a battlefield in Vietnam, were a plea from Cpl. James Vroom of Ft. Wayne, Indiana, to Sgt. Ron Riggs of Dayton. Shortly afterward, Vroom saved Riggs’ life, was wounded doing so, and died two days later. Riggs returned home from Vietnam after two tours of duty, determined to keep the battlefield promise he had made to his war buddy.
Working with a group of veterans, friends, corporations, and Dayton city officials, the chapter made plans, and funds were raised to build a memorial. Located on a four-acre tract along the Great Miami River, the memorial is formed with a circle of Quebec granite containing the names of the men and women from an eight-county area who gave their lives in Vietnam. A separate section of the granite circle honors service personnel from those counties who received the Medal of Honor.
About 190 years following the founding of Dayton, on May 28, 1986, the dedication of the Dayton Vietnam Veterans Memorial Park took place. An estimated 2,500 people attended, and Sgt. Ron Riggs saw the promise he made to Cpl. Vroom fulfilled.
What would the Thompson Party say if they could see Dayton now?
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