Bishop Milton Wright is perhaps best known as the individual who fathered the famous brothers, Orville and Wilbur, who pioneered flight. But Bishop Milton Wright was also a dynamic and occasionally controversial spiritual leader within the United Brethren Church. He was also an avid genealogist and diarist, and his records of both family history and his adult life provide vast amounts of materials providing insight and information into the lives of the Wright Brothers and their families.
His diaries document something about nearly every day of his adult life, as the entries date between 1857 and April 2, 1917, the day before his death. Those scribbled notes provide evidence of his vast knowledge of events both local and worldwide, his opinions about current topics, and incredible details about life in the Wright family and the growing fame of his children. Through these writings, Bishop Wright comes alive as a husband, a father, and eventually a grandfather. In total, there are forty-one volumes –tiny, leather-bound books– which provide a rich history of the world in which he lived.
To celebrate Father’s Day, here are a few notable entries from the Bishop’s diaries.
On the death of his wife, Susan Koerner Wright: Thursday, July 4, 1889 About 4:00 I found Susan sinking and about five awakened the family. She revived about 7:00 somewhat, but afterward continued to sink till 12:20 in the afternoon, when she expired, and thus went out the light of my home.
On the death of his son, Wilbur Wright:
Thursday, May 30, 1912 This morning at 3:15, Wilbur passed away, aged 45 years, 1 month, and 14 days. A short life, full of consequences. An unfailing intellect, imperturable temper, great self reliance and as great modesty, seeing the right clearly, pursuing it steadily, he lived and died. Many called – many telegrams. (Probably over a thousand.)
Monday, June 3, 1912 Wilbur is dead and buried! We are all stricken. It does not seem possible that he is gone. Probably Orville and Katharine feel his loss most. They say little.
Thursday, June 6, 1912 I felt Wilbur’s absence as never before.
In 1910, Bishop Wright flew with his son, Orville, for a flight at Simms Station. Wednesday, May 25, 1910 We all went to Sim[m]s Station. Orville rose 1600 feet and 2600 feet in flights. Orville & Wilbur took a first flight together. Orville took me up 350 feet and 6.55 minutes.
His comments are typically brief, succinct. Historian Tom Crouch, author of The Bishop’s Boys: A Life of Wilbur and Orville Wright, described his appreciation of the Bishop’s diaries in the “Introduction” to their publication in 1999 as follows: “The Bishop’s diaries provide an invaluable window into a household where history was made. Great events do not occur in a vacuum. During the months and years when Wilbur and Orville were struggling to fly, they were also functioning as sons, brothers, uncles, neighbors, and friends. Their father’s journal serves as a window into the life and times of an extraordinary family, and provides an important part of the context within which the drama of the invention of the airplane was played out.”
The Bishop’s original diaries are part of the Wright Brothers’ Collection, housed in Special Collections and Archives in the Wright State University Libraries. The published volume is available for purchase at the Library or online.