Deeds Carillon at Carillon Historical Park in Dayton (photo by Jeffrey Smith)

5 Places that Reflect Dayton’s Spirit of Innovation

The airplane is the most famous invention from Dayton, but this southwest Ohio city has a long legacy as a birthplace of big ideas. 

Dayton proudly calls itself the birthplace of aviation because it’s Orville and Wilbur Wright’s hometown — the place where the brothers not only invented the airplane but also figured out how to make it useful. From Carillon Historical Park to the National Museum of the United States Air Force, the city is home to museums and historic sites that celebrate Dayton’s role as a place of innovation that shaped the world as we know it today. 

Wright Brothers National Museum: This museum at Carillon Historical Park showcases the world’s first practical airplane, the 1905 Wright Flyer III, in a sunken exhibit space Orville Wright himself designed. Following their initial 1903 flight, the Wright brothers spent two years developing an airplane capable of controlled flight, and because their Flyer III was a groundbreaking invention, it’s the only airplane designated a National Historic Landmark. Orville’s ingenious exhibit design affords fine views of the plane’s details like the bicycle chain connecting the engine and propellers. 1000 Carillon Blvd., Dayton 45409, 937/293-2841, 

“Bockscar” plane at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton (photo courtesy of National Museum of the United States Air Force)

National Museum of the United States Air Force: The Air Force’s free museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base features a massive collection of aircraft, spacecraft and missiles that delivers an incomparable trip through national aviation history.  Among its wow-worthy exhibits are the 1909 Military Flyer that the Wright brothers built for the Army; World War II’s legendary Memphis Belle; and SAM 26000, the Air Force One that brought John F. Kennedy’s body back to Washington and took Richard Nixon to China. 1100 Spaatz St., Dayton 45433, 937/255-3286, 

America’s Packard Museum: Ohio’s Warren G. Harding was the first president to ride to his inauguration in an automobile, and the vehicle for that 1921 trip was a Packard. Such was the prestige of this luxury brand that sold for thousands of dollars when Fords cost hundreds. Housed in a restored Packard dealership, this museum’s historic showroom exudes Roaring Twenties style, and the 50 dazzling Packards on display include a 1928 Speedster Charles Lindberg drove and singer Perry Como’s 1953 Caribbean convertible. 420 S. Ludlow St., Dayton 45402, 937/226-1710,

Main gate at Woodland Cemetery & Arboretum in Dayton (photo courtesy of Woodland Cemetery & Arboretum)
Woodland Cemetery & Arboretum: History rests peacefully at one of the nation’s oldest “rural” cemeteries, where 200 acres harbor towering trees and the tombs of illustrious and influential Daytonians. Within its hills and dales, you’ll find the final resting places of Orville and Wilbur Wright, National Cash Register Co. founder John H. Patterson, Black poet laureate Paul Laurence Dunbar and housewife humorist Erma Bombeck. Guided tours are available year-round and spotlight the gravesites and stories of the lives remembered here. 118 Woodland Ave., Dayton 45409, 937/228-3221,

Oregon Historic District: Dating to 1815, Dayton’s first neighborhood is also its most eclectic, combining gentrified Victorian homes (including a grand Eastlake-style abode built by John H. Balsley, who invented the folding stepladder) with a lively mix of clubs, quirky shops, and indie restaurants serving food and drinks with a side of history. The Oregon Express is known for pizza, live music and its century-old commercial building. Jay’s Seafood, a district mainstay, was once a gristmill, while The Trolley Stop offers locavore tavern fare in an 1839 building.