Charlie Taylor
Charles Edward Taylor built the first aircraft engine used by the Wright brothers
Wright brothers
The Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur , were two Americans credited with inventing and building the world's first successful airplane and making the first controlled, powered and sustained heavier-than-air human flight, on December 17, 1903...

 and was a vital contributor of mechanical skills in the building and maintaining of early Wright engines and airplanes.


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.

When it became clear that an off-the-shelf engine with the required power-to-weight ratio
Power-to-weight ratio
Power-to-weight ratio is a calculation commonly applied to engines and mobile power sources to enable the comparison of one unit or design to another. Power-to-weight ratio is a measurement of actual performance of any engine or power sources...

 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 aluminum water-cooled engine in only six weeks, based partly on rough sketches provided by the Wrights. The cast aluminum block and crankcase
In an internal combustion engine of the reciprocating type, the crankcase is the housing for the crankshaft. The enclosure forms the largest cavity in the engine and is located below the cylinder, which in a multicylinder engine are usually integrated into one or several cylinder blocks...

 weighed 152 pounds (68.9 kg) and were produced at either Miami Brass Foundry or the Buckeye Iron and Brass Works, near Dayton, Ohio
Dayton, Ohio
Dayton is the 6th largest city in the U.S. state of Ohio and the county seat of Montgomery County, the fifth most populous county in the state. The population was 141,527 at the 2010 census. The Dayton Metropolitan Statistical Area had a population of 841,502 in the 2010 census...

. The Wrights needed an engine with at least 8 hp. The engine that Taylor built produced 12.

In 1908 he helped Orville build and prepare the "military Flyer" for demonstration to the U.S. Army at Fort Myer, Virginia. On September 17 the airplane crashed due to a shattered propeller, seriously injuring Orville and killing his passenger, Army lieutenant, Thomas Selfridge
Thomas Selfridge
Thomas Etholen Selfridge was a First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army and the first person to die in a crash of a powered airplane. He was a passenger while Orville Wright was piloting the aircraft.-Biography:...

. 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. After that,

"...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."

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 for Missouri. Despite this accident Taylor wanted to become a pilot and sought Wilbur and Orville to teach him. The Wrights, fearing for Taylor's safety and possibly accepting Taylor as an 'honorary' Wright brother, vehemently discouraged him. The Wrights understood the risks that came with being a pilot. Had Taylor become a pilot in this early era, the possibility of him perishing in an accident would have been over 70 percent.

In September 1909 Taylor accompanied Wilbur Wright, 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
Hudson-Fulton Celebration
The Hudson-Fulton Celebration from September 25 to October 9, 1909 in New York and New Jerseywas an elaborate commemoration of the 300th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s discovery of the Hudson River and the 100th anniversary of Robert Fulton’s first successful commercial application of the paddle...

 demonstrating the airplane to millions of New Yorkers and showcasing the new technology of practical flight. Charlie ably assisted Wilbur, though he didn't fly with him. Charlie made sure the engine worked perfectly for Will's 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.

Taylor became a leading mechanic in the Wright Company
Wright Company
The Wright Company was the commercial aviation business venture of the Wright Brothers, established by them in 1909 in conjunction with several prominent industrialists from New York and Detroit with the intention of capitalizing on their invention of the practical airplane. It maintained a...

 after it was formed in 1909. When Calbraith Perry Rodgers
Calbraith Perry Rodgers
Calbraith Perry Rodgers was an American pioneer aviator. He made the first transcontinental airplane flight across the U.S. from September 17, 1911 to November 5, 1911, with dozens of stops, both intentional and accidental...

 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.

Taylor saved enough money from his adventures to buy several hundred acres of farmland near Salton Sea
Salton Sea
The Salton Sea is a shallow, saline, endorheic rift lake located directly on the San Andreas Fault, predominantly in California's Imperial Valley. The lake occupies the lowest elevations of the Salton Sink in the Colorado Desert of Imperial and Riverside counties in Southern California. Like Death...

 in the southeast corner of California. However the economic climate of the time eventually brought him to poverty. He died penniless and alone in the hospital in 1956.

Although Taylor was largely ignored by history, it would be wrong to think the Wright brothers exploited him or took credit for his achievements. All three of these early pioneers were close friends and Taylor remained in close contact with the last surviving Wright brother, Orville, until Orville's death in 1948. Charlie returned to Dayton in 1936 and he and Orville joined forces with Henry Ford
Henry Ford
Henry Ford was an American industrialist, the founder of the Ford Motor Company, and sponsor of the development of the assembly line technique of mass production. His introduction of the Model T automobile revolutionized transportation and American industry...

 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 establishment on great Americans. Orville had also seen to it that Charlie received an annuity of money so that Charlie would live decently in his later years.

Charlie Taylor died in 1956 aged 87, eight years to the day after friend and employer Orville Wright, and was buried at the Portal of Folded Wings Shrine to Aviation in Burbank, California
Burbank, California
Burbank is a city in Los Angeles County in Southern California, United States, north of downtown Los Angeles. The estimated population in 2010 was 103,340....

, a shrine to aviation history.


  • The FAA's Charles Taylor Master Mechanic Award
    Charles Taylor Master Mechanic Award
    The Charles Taylor Master Mechanic Award is an honor presented by the United States Federal Aviation Administration in honor of Charles Taylor, the first aviation mechanic in powered flight. The award recognizes the lifetime accomplishments of senior aviation mechanics...

     is named in his honor.
  • The Charles Taylor Aviation Maintenance Science Department at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
    Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
    Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is a private university in the US specializing in aviation and aerospace engineering. It teaches the science, practice, and business of aviation and aerospace. Called "The Harvard of the Sky" by Time Magazine in 1979, Embry-Riddle has a history dating back to...

     is named for him.
  • Aviation Maintenance Technician Day
    Aviation Maintenance Technician Day
    Aviation Maintenance Technician Day is a United States day of recognition, observed on May 24, that recognizes the efforts of aviation maintenance professionals as well as the achievements of Charles Edward Taylor, the man who built the engine used to power the airplane of the Wright Brothers. The...

     is observed in 45 U.S. States on May 24, Taylor's birthday.
  • television footage from "We Saw It Happen"(1953) with Charlie at age 85.

Further reading

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