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Christmas With Wilbur and Orville: 1900

Christmas With Wilbur and Orville: 1900

December 1900. Christmas tree in the home of Wilbur and Orville Wright at 7 Hawthorn Street in Dayton, Ohio, three years before their famous flight. 4x5 dry-plate glass negative by the Wright Brothers. View full size. There's a lot of detail here for fans of old-school Christmas decoration. Zoom the gifts. Update: Niece Bertha is shown here playing with the dish set in a different room or house.


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Electric Power in Dayton

Dayton was a very advanced city for 1903 due to its importance as a manufacturing center (NCR, Barney and Smith Railroad Car Company . . .) The Wright Family, though not rich, were fairly well-to-do. Thier father was a Bishop (pastor) of a local church.
Historical note: before they flew and even before the bicycle shop the Wrights dabbled in publishing. They produced a small local paper and were one of the first pubishers of Paul Lawerence Dunbar's stories and poems.

Wired Dayton

Dayton had electricity, without a doubt, not long after Edison rolled out his first electric-enabled neighborhood in the Gramercy Park vicinity (NYC) in or around 1882. I used to enjoy Con Ed's exhibit about same.

Dayton had a number of advanced industries - including the National Cash Register Company, which was already global by this time.

The Wright Brothers used electricity in wind tunnel tests for their wing development.

Wright relations

I know I'm late in the game here, but Orville and Wilbur did indeed have a sister, Katherine, but she would have been a bit old to receive dolls and miniatures in 1900 and didn't marry until she was past childbearing age (to a newspaper magnate). Their brothers, Reuchlin and Lorin had children -- one was an inventor of toys -- hence the dolls and miniatures.

Gifts ON the Tree

I believe people used to put the gifts, which tended to be smaller, on the tree itself. You could fit them in the branches because they were further apart and not as bushy as they tend to be now. And I think the cup-shaped ornaments may have held candy or other small gifts. I think some people even tucked their nativities into the tree branches too. There were obviously trends and fashions in how trees were decorated and I'd love to know more about it.

Christmas Candles

You'll notice in the hi-def view that the wicks on the candles have never been lit. Maybe they were purely decorative in this instance, but I assure you they aren't as risky as they might seem.

My family has put candles on our Christmas trees for the past four decades (and lit them) without any problems. You don't exactly leave the room while they're lit, mind you, but it's actually quite difficult for a fresh cut tree to ignite from a tiny candle. I know this because my father tried to demonstrate to my mother once how dangerous this tradition from the old country (The Netherlands) was. One January in the mid-70s, once the tree had dried out and was out at the curb, he spent 45 minutes trying to set the old tannenbaum ablaze and failed utterly. We still have lit candles on the tree every year, but there's always a fire extinguisher in the room in deference to my father.

Coonskin Cap

Of I see it, even without zooming in it does appear to be either that or a fur hat of some sort to go along with the gun? That is really quite funny, to place it in the tree.... maybe the brothers had a sharp wit as well as a sharp intellect...... Thanks Dave....

Animal in the tree- dead or alive

Is that some kind of animal in the tree? House pet sleeping or trophy? I have never seen that before.

[Seems to be a fur stole. - Dave]

Orville & Wilbur

Two comments:

1) I believe they had a younger sister. Perhaps the girl's gifts under the tree are for her.

2) As a kid, I read a book about them. One interesting anecdote that stuck with me: Before their Dad was a Bishop, he was just a church pastor, and his two young sons got stuck with the boring chore of folding the church bulletins every Saturday night. To deal with this dreary task, they used their creativity and inventiveness to design and build a machine to fold the bulletins for them! I would just love to see this contraption. Most likely it long ago was destroyed, but maybe there's a tiny chance it survived and is in a museum somewhere, eh?

Definitely Gas

You can see the taps for the gas just before the fixture elbows up into the light mantles (I think that's what they were called). Hard to imagine Bishop Wright spending the money (or even having) the money needed to convert from gaslight to electric. If we think about the fire danger from candles on a Christmas tree, I think we could also offer a bit of concern about a gas flame being so close to a wallpapered ceiling.

Electric lights

The ceiling fixture looks electric, so I guess Dayton had electricity in 1900.

[I think those are gaslights on the ceiling. - Dave]

Great presents!

What great presents--the doll tea and dishes set, roller skates and some very detailed doll furniture, the train--a classic Christmas!

Presents Beneath the Tree

I wonder if the gun under the tree is an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle!

By the way, does anyone know what the cup-shaped ornaments on the tree are? I've never seen those before.


No "fragile" leg lamp in the window?

Denny Gill
Chugiak, Alaska


Wow, I'd hate to wallpaper a ceiling.


I wonder how much these toys would go for on eBay.

All this stuff!

Wow coin bags, dolls, candles, popcorn, and of course a star at the top. The man's head in the picture on the right is blocked by an ornament. Plus, those books are awesome, now that's a book cover. And is that a rifle I see?

[I think it is! And there's a tag on it. Unfortunately I can't read the writing. I also see roller skates and a toy locomotive. Click here for a closeup of the gifts. But only if you've been good. - Dave]

Candles on a Christmas tree...

... has got to be the most optimistic decoration ever.

"nah, it's fine, it wont' burn up"


The toys must've been for nieces and nephews, as Orville and Wilbur were unmarried and (presumably) had no children. I wonder if the wrapping paper was leftover from their printing business.

["Don't bother me, kid. I'm inventing the airplane!" - Dave]

No Wires

These trees were fire hazards. Also lit by candles, my mom's family tree burned down in the 1930s and took their few gifts with it. Gifting was so much simpler then, without the megahyped products and must have items of today. Dolls, books, toiletries and no batteries required!

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