It took over a hundred years but the world’s first aviation mechanic is finally getting the recognition he so justly deserves in the new Wright Brothers biography released just in time for AMT Day this May 24th. While we all know who the Wright brothers were, learning about their genius and determination in grade school, very, very few – including I dare say some of you readers – know who Charlie Taylor was or his extraordinary contributions to the Wright brothers flying success. If he’s mentioned at all in books and articles about the brothers, it’s only in passing or maybe in a short footnote.
But I am very glad to see that none other than the award-winning biographer, David McCullough, winner of numerous awards including Pulitzer Prizes for biographies of Presidents Truman and Adams, has documented Charlie Taylor’s genius and contributions and highlighted them in his latest biography of the Wright Brothers which focuses on the years that led to aviation’s first airplane flights.
According to Mr. McCullough, Charlie Taylor did not leave a long trail of papers and documents that could be tracked and revealed to us, but enough remains in the historical record for Mr. McCullough to conclude, “Of all those who were to enter the lives of the brothers, few were to prove of such value…” He goes on to say, “Charlie Taylor…was more than a clever mechanic, he was a brilliant mechanic and for the brothers a godsend.” The Wright brothers themselves acknowledged Charlie Taylor’s value: “…Wilbur and Orville never lost sight of his ability and enormous value to their efforts.”
As some of you may know, Charlie Taylor was first hired by the Wright Brothers as a bicycle mechanic for their bicycle manufacture and repair shop. It was that shop that funded much of the early Wright brothers flying experiments. And Charlie Taylor proved his value there. But it was when an engine was needed for the Wright brothers’ plane that Charlie Taylor’s genius came to the fore. According to McCullough, the brothers wrote to automobile engine manufacturers in seven states asking for an engine that met the weight and power that they needed. Only one responded and that engine was much too heavy.
Since the Wright brothers had no experience building engines, they turned to their bicycle mechanic. And so Charlie Taylor went to work. “His only prior experience with a gasoline engine had been trying to repair one a few years before. But that January, working in the shop with the same metal lathe and drill press used for building bicycles, he went to work and six weeks later he had finished it.”
He ended up making the engine from cast aluminum, weighing in at 152 pounds (less than the maximum weight of 200 pounds) and delivering more than the required 8 horsepower. “…the work of boring out the aluminum for the independent cylinder and making the cast iron piston rings was all done by one man…working in the back room at the bicycle shop.” And that is a very nice tribute to Charlie Taylor and his incredible contribution to powered flight. And sets the historical record straight on his importance to the history of flight.