A day without Dayton

How Dayton’s legacy of innovation continues in our day-to-day lives

By Brady Kress

A can featuring a pop-top, invented in Dayton.

A can featuring a pop-top, invented in Dayton.

Spending my days surrounded by Dayton’s history is a true joy and an ongoing inspirational experience. However, the real fun is sharing these stories with others who are unaware of just how much Dayton has changed their lives and the lives of billions of people around the world.

As a continued source of entertainment for me, every few weeks I meet people who share their frustration concerning Dayton’s dependency on the Wright Brothers’ legacy as our great city’s one shining achievement. As if conquering the mystery of powered, heavier than air, man-carrying, controlled flight wasn’t enough for one city, this is usually followed up by the sarcastic quip, “What has Dayton done in the last 100 years?”

Often inquiring if that was supposed to be a rhetorical question, I enjoy asking them to describe their day for me, step by step. As they do, it usually includes, as I point out, a long list of tasks that are possible only because of the innovative and entrepreneurial people of Dayton.

Most of these people wake up in the morning to the light of a Liquid Crystal Display (or LCD) on their clock radio, blackberry, or television (invented in Dayton). They often have someone in their family taking some type of time-released medication (invented in Dayton). They pay some bills with checks leaving carbonless paper copies behind (invented in Dayton). Are you catching on yet?

Think about all you might do in a day. You might grab the Yellow Pages to look up a phone number. Can’t do it without Dayton. Or get in your car and start it up with the simple turn of a self-starter. Can’t do it without Dayton. Then maybe pay for chemically perfected gasoline, with a magnetic strip credit card and tear off a receipt printed with thermal printing. Can’t do any of those without Dayton. Can’t buy anything at a cash register without Dayton either.

What else can’t you do without Dayton? Adjust your residential air conditioning. Or use a step ladder to reach a shelf stacked with a few of the 200 billion pop-top cans of soda, soup, cat food or tennis balls used around the world every year.

You can’t enjoy the story of classic space exploration with Apollo capsules re-entering the atmosphere using honeycomb heat shields, guidance computers or free-fall parachutes (all invented in Dayton). Or did you know that most state-of-the-art satellites are powered by radio isotope thermal electric batteries invented in Dayton?

Dayton has so much to do with history and how the U.S. has defended itself through military operations and wars. Look at a picture of the Dayton-built DH-4 airplanes, powered by Dayton Liberty engines in World War I. Or a photo of a soldier who fired Dayton M1 Carbine rifles in World War II, but didn’t perish in the Atlantic at the hands of German U-boat attacks because of Dayton code breakers; and didn’t have to invade the mainland of Japan because of Dayton polonium triggers used in America’s nuclear arsenal.

Though it’s a part of our past, Dayton certainly has a place in building our future. Looking up information quickly on an IBM computer (started with the Dayton Computing Scale Company) using a Dayton Lexis-Nexis search engine wouldn’t be possible. If you didn’t write in a Dayton Mead paper tablet, maybe you unwrapped a product boxed in Dayton Mead packaging.

You might also be really bored without Dayton. Dayton Huffy Bicycles was the world’s largest supplier until not long ago. Feel like kicking back to watch a little auto racing? The first race conducted at the Indianapolis motor speedway was won with a Dayton-built, Stoddard-Dayton automobile. Can’t even watch the Cincinnati Bengals without Dayton, as the first game of what would become the NFL was played here in 1920.

Even after these continued reminders of Dayton’s role in the world, I’m forced to admit that some of these contributions have left Dayton, or even the U.S.; and others are simply passé. What I will not concede is the idea that Dayton is passé. Just try to get through a week without using a Dayton invention. The legacy of innovation and entrepreneurship continues, and while Dayton’s future might not contain cash registers and refrigerators, it does cling to the leading edge of composites, fuel-cells, precision tooling, laser-guidance, aviation and much more. The Dayton region continues to be the Gem City and the cradle of innovation.

Brady Kress is the president & CEO of Dayton History and Carillon Park.

Reach DCP contributor Brady Kress at BKress@DaytonHistory.org.

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