Charlie Taylor (mechanic)

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Charles Edward Taylor
Charlietaylor.jpg
"[I] always wanted to learn to fly, but I never did. The Wrights refused to teach me and tried to discourage the idea. They said they needed me in the shop and to service their machines, and if I learned to fly, I'd be gadding about the country and maybe become an exhibition pilot, and then they'd never see me again."
Born May 24, 1868 (1868-05-24)
Cerro Gordo, Illinois
Died January 30, 1956 (1956-01-31) (aged 87)
California
Occupation Mechanic, machinist
Spouse(s) Henrietta Webbert

Charles Edward Taylor (May 24, 1868 – January 30, 1956) built the first aircraft engine used by the Wright brothers and was a vital contributor of mechanical skills in the building and maintaining of early Wright engines and airplanes.[1]

Biography[edit]

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 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 weighed 152 pounds (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 (6.0 kW). The engine that Taylor built produced 12.

In 1908 Taylor 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. 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."[2]

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, reluctant to lose Taylor's services to the world of exhibition flying, discouraged him.

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 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 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.

Taylor returned to Dayton and worked for the Wright-Martin Company 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. He 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.

In 1941 Taylor returned to California, finding work in a defense factory. He suffered a heart attack in 1945 and was no longer able to work. By 1955 his annuity and Social Security income were inadequate and he became a charity case in the Los Angeles county hospital. When his plight was publicized, the aviation industry raised funds to move him to a private facility where he died in January 1956, eight years to the day after his friend and employer Orville Wright. Taylor is buried at the Portal of Folded Wings Shrine to Aviation in Burbank, California, a shrine to aviation history.[3]

Legacy[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Charlie Taylor: The Man Aviation History Almost Forgot, March 16, 2012
  2. ^ Fred Howard, "Wilbur and Orville," 1998, p.275
  3. ^ "C. E. Taylor Laid to Rest With Aviation Pioneers". Los Angeles Times. February 3, 1956. The body of Charles E. Taylor, the man who built the engine for the world's first airplane, was interred yesterday in the Portal of the Folded Wings at Valhalla Memorial Park, a mausoleum dedicated to aviation pioneer ... 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]