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Charlie Taylor – Engine builder who powered the Wright Flyer

Charlie Taylor was born in a log cabin on May 24, 1868, in Cerro Gordo, Illinois to William Stephen Taylor and Mary Jane Germain. Taylor worked as a binder at the Nebraska State Journal at age 12. He later became a toolmaker and at age 24 he met and married Henrietta Webbert, who was from Dayton, Ohio. They had a child and moved to Dayton in search of better prospects and was hired by Stoddard Manufacturing Co to make farm machinery and bicycles. The Wright Brothers started renting a building for their bicycle shop from his wife's uncle he went to work for them.

Wright Cycle Co.

Initially, Taylor was hired to fix bicycles but increasingly took over running of the bicycle business as the Wright brothers spent more time on their aeronautical pursuits. By 1902, they trusted him enough to run the shop in their absence while they went to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, to fly gliders.

Wright Glider 1901

When it became clear that an off-the-shelf engine with the required power-to-weight ratio was not available in the U.S. for their first engine-driven Flyer, the Wrights turned to Taylor for the job. He designed and built the aluminium-copper water-cooled engine in only six weeks, based partly on rough sketches provided by the Wrights. The cast aluminium block and crankcase weighed only 69 kg and were produced at either Miami Brass Foundry or the Buckeye Iron and Brass Works, near Dayton, Ohio. The Wrights needed an engine with at least 8 horsepower. The engine that Taylor built produced 12hp way exceeding their expectations.

Taylor's Engine used in the Wright Flyer

In 1908 Taylor helped Orville build and prepare the "military Flyer" for a demonstration to the U.S. Army at Fort Myer, Virginia. On September 17, the aircraft crashed due to a shattered propeller, seriously injuring Orville and killing his passenger, Army lieutenant Thomas Selfridge. Taylor was among the first to reach the crash. He helped lift Selfridge out of the wreckage, then undid Orville's necktie and opened his shirt as doctors in the crowd pushed their way to the scene. Orville and Selfridge were taken away on stretchers.

Charlie leaned against an upended wing of the wrecked Flyer, buried his face in his arms, and sobbed. A newspaperman tried to comfort him, but he was past comforting until Dr Watters assured him that the chances for Orville's recovery were good. Then he pulled himself together and took charge of carting the wrecked Flyer back to its shed.

Military Flyer fatal crash

Both Taylor and Navy Lieutenant George Sweet had been scheduled to make their first flights with Orville that day, but both were bumped in order to accommodate Selfridge who had to leave town shortly for Missouri. Despite this accident, Taylor wanted to become a pilot and sought Wilbur and Orville to teach him. The Wrights, reluctant to lose Taylor's services to the world of exhibition flying, discouraged him.

Wilbur Wright and Charlie Taylor

In September 1909 Taylor accompanied Wilbur, with a new Model A Flyer, to Governor's Island, New York City. Wilbur was to make several over-water flights at the Hudson-Fulton Celebration, demonstrating the aircraft to millions of New Yorkers and showcasing the new technology of practical flight. Charlie ably assisted Wilbur, though he did not fly with him. Charlie made sure the engine worked perfectly for the daring and dangerous over-water trips. The pair also installed a watertight canoe to the Flyer's lower wing for buoyancy just in case of an emergency landing in the Hudson River.

Model A Flyer with canoe

Taylor became a leading mechanic in the Wright Company after it was formed in 1909. When Calbraith Perry Rodgers made his trip from Long Island to California in 1911 in his newly-bought Wright aircraft, he paid Taylor $70 a week (a large sum at the time) to be his mechanic. Taylor followed the flight by train, frequently arriving at the next rendezvous before Rodgers, to make any required repairs and prepare the aircraft for the next day's flight.

Calbraith Perry Rodgers

Taylor worked for the Wright-Martin Company in Dayton until 1920. He later moved to California and invested his life savings in several hundred acres of real estate near the Salton Sea, but the venture failed.

Taylor returned to Dayton in 1936, and he and Orville helped Henry Ford in the planning, moving and restoration of the Wright family home and one of the Wright Brothers bicycle shops to Ford's Dearborn, Michigan, heritage village about great Americans. Orville also gave Taylor an annuity of $800 a year.

Ford Museum

In 1941 Taylor returned to California, finding work in a defence factory. He had a heart attack in 1945 and was no longer able to work. By 1955 his annuity and Social Security income was inadequate and he became a charity case in the Los Angeles County Hospital. When his plight was publicised, the aviation industry raised funds to move him to a private facility.

He died on January 30, 1956, eight years to the day after Orville, his friend and employer. Taylor is buried at the Portal of Folded Wings Shrine to Aviation in Burbank, California, a shrine to aviation history.

Folded Wings Shrine to Aviation



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