Before there was a Silicon Valley, there was the Miami Valley, aka Dayton, Ohio, a hub of innovation for the early days of the American automobile and airplane.
In the 1880s, Dayton led the country in patents per capita. The Wright Brothers had their bicycle shop in Dayton. The area produced the first mechanical cash register, the first electronic cash register, and is considered the birthplace of modern hydraulic engineering. It’s also where — in the hayloft of Deeds Barn — Charles F. Kettering changed the course of motor vehicles around the world when he made the hand crank obsolete by creating the electric self-starter.
Kettering’s invention not only made cars much more accessible, especially to women, who were considered too dainty to contend with the hand crank, but to more men as well; no more fear of broken hands from crank kick back. It was such injuries, including the death of a Cadillac executive, that spurred Kettering to create the electric self-starter, an invention that also spelled victory for the internal combustion engine over steam- or electric-powered motor vehicles, the three power systems had pretty much split the automotive market up to that point.
Kettering’s invention, even the 1905 Wright Flyer III, considered the world’s first “practical” airplane because it could turn left or right as well as fly and land, are among the amazing artifacts showcased in Carillon Historical Park — A Dayton History Experience.
Think Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village on a somewhat smaller scale, though the Ford complex in Dearborn, Michigan, has nothing to compare with the 151-foot tall Carillon with its 57 bells.
All sorts of history are on display in dozens of buildings in the park. There’s a building honoring the Wright Brothers, a Transportation Center that features rail cars one can explore, an old auto dealership with vintage Dayton-built vehicles, a vintage Sunoco gas station, a building full of fascinating Dayton-produced bicycles, and much more, including a replica of Deeds Barn (the real barn has been moved inside the Kettering Family Education Center building, which serves as the main museum structure).
In mid-September 2016, the 10th annual Dayton Concours d’Elegance will feature some 200 vehicles on the Carillon park’s Town Greene.
For more information, visit the Carillon Historical Park website.
Photos by Larry Edsall