Dayton settlement began in 1796 almost precisely where the present-day Engineers
Club now sits. The very first boat traveling up from Cincinnati landed here. Some
accounts claim the first person to step on dry land was Catherine Van Cleve Thompson,
destined to be the great-great-grandmother to the Wright brothers. One piroque, or
flat-bottomed boat, was “re-engineered” to become the first temporary shelter at
St. Clair and Water Street, now Monument Avenue, at the other end of the block from
today’s Engineers Club of Dayton.
The rich river bottomland had attracted farming centuries before whites arrived,
as archaeologists have relearned at the nearby Sunwatch Indian Village site. Long
before GPS, this juncture of five rivers proved an easy-to-locate strategic point
Two of the first ten cabins in Dayton rose on this same spot. Pioneer resident Daniel
Cooper homesteaded the east half of the present club’s site. That’s only fitting,
as he also happened to be an engineer who surveyed the settlement and later built
water-powered mills and distilleries. The western half of the site was a men’s dorm
owned by a General Brown, retired from the war of 1812. The Engineers Club stands
on lots 5-8 of Daniel Cooper’s original platting.
Dayton was wilderness to begin with, a collision of cultures. East of Cooper stood
the Van Cleve cabin on their “in lot.” The father farmed his nearby “out lot”; until
he was scalped there. When the suspected Indian perpetrator was caught, his hand
was cut off. Some time later Indians gathered in front of the house in a menacing
manner. A daughter escaped out the back of the cabin to alert men at Newcom’s tavern
on west Main.
Starting from zero
At the dawn of the 20th century, the city of Dayton was much like today’s Silicon
Valley—a confluence of engineering talent, Progressive politics, and strong individuals.
The “city of a thousands factories” led the US in patents. It pioneered the City
Commission style of government, with a civil engineer as city manager, invested with
greater powers than the actual mayor.
Then the worst local disaster ever struck. The Great Flood of 1913 killed over 360
residents, and caused over $2 billion in damages (in today’s dollars). Many lost
The city could have withered. Local industries could have abandoned Dayton and sought
higher ground. Instead something extraordinary happened. The collective brain power
behind those thousand competing factories banded together to rebuild their city and
tame the river for good. Dayton became a technocracy, led by its most capable scientific
National Cash Register (NCR) was instrumental in flood rescue and later recovery
efforts, raising $2.15 million. Assistant General Manager (and engineer) Edward A.
Deeds was put in charge of the flood prevention program and saw completion of the
innovative dams of the Miami Conservancy District.
While at NCR Deeds had hired an exceptional young engineer, Charles F. Kettering,
to help electrify the cash register. The two struck it rich, assembling a “Barn Gang”
of moonlighting engineers into the Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company, or Delco.
Thirty years prior, Thomas Edison had created the first industrial research lab.
The idea spread like electricity. As Deeds put it, “men ought to hunt together,”
and he and Kettering replicated this group concept in many forms. Deeds helped create
McCook Field, which grew into the Air Force’s main R&D lab, Wright-Patterson Air
Force Base. Delco was sold to GM, founding the General Motors Research Corporation
with Kettering in charge.
After their initial Delco success, Deeds and Kettering organized another group, a
forum for engineers from across Dayton. On Feb. 20, they proposed an Engineers Club
to the local technical community so that Dayton’s engineers and scientists could
have the “educational advantages and fellowship facilities they had so greatly missed
in their earlier days.” Members and potential employers (like Deeds and Kettering)
could also evaluate one another more freely.
Initially the club met in a house owned by Delco a few blocks away at 2nd and Madison.
But both club and Delco quickly outgrew the arrangement. Within five years a new
club building rose at 110 E. Monument, funded by Deeds and Kettering.
The site was near “ground zero” of the flood, and may have been available due to
the resulting damage. Deeds’ involvement with The Miami Conservancy District, which
built right across Jefferson St., may also have factored into the site selection.
A New Building
The local firm of Schenk and Williams designed the club building, and also supervised
construction. The architects included the latest city steam heat and ventilation,
with automated valves and regulators plus electric lighting. They built well, knowing
they would hear about any problems. They were members.
Still, the work wasn’t perfect. Long-term deficiencies in the roof truss design have
led to repeated problems in recent years, addressed as funds become available. A
Roof Fund has been established to plan for full replacement.
The reserved Orville Wright broke his perennial silence, speaking publicly at the
opening on February 2nd, 1918.
To get things rolling quickly, Deeds and Kettering paid for the building themselves
in excess of $300,000 and subsidized its maintenance and operations for the first
decade. By then membership had grown to the point that the club could be self-sufficient.
Talk about self-starters!
High tech fixtures
The new club building incorporated a number of innovations. A built-in master vacuum
cleaning system bore similarities to Orville Wright’s self-designed system at the
Wright mansion, Hawthorn Hill. A pneumatic system synchronized the club’s clocks
through a bellows, which advanced the minutes & hours via suction or puffs of air.
Buttons for the servant enunciator network are still visible around the building.
Postwar Peak Years
Even before the building was erected, prices rose. In 1916 lunches jumped to $0.35!
Five years later membership had expanded to include those who worked with engineers,
and women were granted most club privileges. The club soon installed its first “wireless”
or radio set, and the new library shelved its first thousand books.
Aviation also found a pioneering home near the club. Directly across the river McCook
Field became the first military aviation test field. There early aviator Harold R.
Harris became the first to use a parachute successfully, landing in a grape arbor
in North Dayton. This was fortuitous since he also later flew under the Main Street
The Club served unofficially as the initial “Officers Club” for McCook’s Army Air
Corps officers. Along with Deed’s leadership, this interchange of aviators and engineers
may have helped foster McCook as the Army’s chief R&D center for aviation, later
to shift to nearby WPAFB.
In 1925 a cozy Barber Shop was installed upstairs off the Loggia porch, overlooking
the airfield across the river. All members, wives and children could get clipped
at “usual city prices.” It is unknown how many women trusted their locks to the club
barber. The fastidious and private Orville Wright found this the perfect place to
get a trim while observing the progress of aviation.
Weathering the great depression
In 1929 the club title transferred to the members with an estimated value of $405,000.
The library by then held 3200 books. With the onset of the depression, membership
dropped by 10%. But the club survived, and by the 1936 had accepted its first female
member, Maude Gardner.
During the same years Charles Kettering co-invented Freon 12 refrigerant gas, and
several other members worked on related technology at the Frigidaire plant in town.
So it was fitting that air conditioning was installed in the club in 1937.
During the same period the lower level was developed as the French & Italian rooms.
By the time of Pearl Harbor membership had climbed to 1000 members. Though war rationing
restricted vacations and celebrations, the club found ways to provide some fun and
relief to the growing membership working on the war efforts. See the related slideshow
for some examples.
A Costly Crisis
January of 1985 saw sudden flooding of the club building from top to bottom. A bitter
cold snap broke a third floor water pipe, which flowed down through the floors, destroying
the club’s last pool table and much carpeting, peeling paint but miraculously missing
the south wing, library and wooden paneling in the Ivory Room. Fortunately the club
carried good insurance. The adjuster estimated $30,000 damage initially.
Other long-term problems would call for larger efforts. By 1996 the Foundation was
positioned to accept tax-deductible donations for the required renovation. This involved
revising the Foundation’s charter to allow for financial interaction with the club
property and still remain within IRS regulations for a non-profit. An earlier success
at the Masonic Temple pointed the way.
Soon a full $3.5 million building restoration was underway, a joint effort of Club’s
Board of Governors and the Foundation called Renaissance 96. Between this and a follow-on
Renaissance II program, the restoration/modernization touched all areas of structure
and grounds including structure integrity, assessing hazards like lead paint, a complete
electrical modernization, enhanced security, and making a conversion to internal
steam heat due to a DP&L phase-out downtown.
Another half million dollars are needed to complete restorations. The most pressing
concerns include replacing the roof, upgrading third floor electrical system, restoring
the Library and relocating staff offices to the east basement. Also planned are new
carpets and drapes, fixing the dining room window walls and doing a full stage upgrade
of the auditorium.
For renovation details see Jack Darst’s first-hand account: Facilities Changes over
In 2007 a team of club members, architects, librarians and national park rangers
applied to have the Engineers Club of Dayton building placed on the National Register
of Historic Places. On Oct 17, 2007 their work paid off. This recognition should
help publicize and protect the structure indefinitely. Their application makes for
Increase the club’s appeal to the next generation of professionals
Find new roles—serve retirees, go online, broaden appeal, etc
Preserve & share Dayton’s history of innovation
Help the greater Dayton community continue to thrive & reinvent itself
The non-profit Engineers Club of Dayton Foundation formed in 1972 with 501 (C) (3)
tax-exempt status. Its original mission was to spread knowledge of science and engineering,
sponsor public meetings and make grants to students. Beginning with $5400, within
five years its net worth grew to nearly $27,000. See the 1977 Annual Report
By then the Foundation was co-sponsoring yearly all-day Edison-Science Youth Days
for Dayton and area high school students, contributing to the Dayton Museum of Natural
History and the Honors Seminar of Metropolitan Dayton, and making a $500 grant to
a college Engineering student. A web search reveals that one recipient passed on
the favor by teaching college math.
More recently the Foundation obtained and supplemented an Engineering and Science
Foundation grant to provide Math and Science Teaching Workshops to approximately
300 Miami Valley teachers in 16 school systems.
Education and community outreach
Over the years the Foundation has supported:
Local science fairs, TechFest for primary grade students, Teachers Science Seminar,
the Kettering Fund for outstanding senior Engineering student, awards for technical
papers by undergrad and graduate student, Rube Goldberg Contest, The Science Enrichment
for Minorities program, teacher support programs, Mathematics Collaborative, the
Odyssey of the Mind and Women in Engineering – a weeklong experience for high school
women, STEM Initiative –FoosBlast 2008, and Ropewalk documentary film.
The Ropewalk film is among the most successful education projects sponsored by the
Foundation, having won state and national awards and online distribution through
Netflix. Over 500 free copies were sent to schools, museums, libraries, historical
societies and sail training tall ships.
The new Dayton Innovation Legacy project will tell the stories of Dayton’s unsung
inventors and innovators. It is currently accepting donations to help collect, preserve
and communicate these stories through a multimedia website.
Enlarged mission for the Foundation
After the 1995 water damage to the Club building the Foundation added historic preservation
to its mission. Foundation-sponsored public educational events held at the Club helped
meet the new charter and make the club eligible for funds. Soon an endowment was
also established to save for a rainy day.
Foundation funds have since been used to update the Club’s electrical system, lighting,
and to install boilers. We have washed and cleaned the building exterior, painted,
performed a building review, and begun a long-term roof fund.
Thanks to the officers and trustees of the Foundation for their cooperation and support.
Thanks also to these Club members for their assistance with this online history:
Tom Crouch – Senior Curator of the Division of Aeronautics at the National Air and
Space Museum, Aviation Historian
Curt Dalton – Engineers Club Historian and Visual Resources Manager at Dayton History
Jack & Betty Darst – Betty was Media Director for Springfield City Schools and is
a current adjunct professor at Wright State & Wittenberg. Jack, a retired GM engineer,
currently chairs the Dayton GM Heritage Group which preserves artifacts and history.
Ben Graham – Former Club president and head of The Ben Graham Corporation
Ann Honius – Chief, Education & Resources Management, Dayton Aviation Heritage National
Historic Park; Board of Governors, Engineers Club of Dayton
Nancy Horlacher, Local History Specialist, Dayton Metro Library
Rich & Mary Ann Johnson – Mary Ann has written numerous books about local aviation
history. Rich is Professor Emeritus of the Air Force Institute of Technology.
Al Leland – Former President of Bank One Dayton, past board member of the Engineers
Club, and past Trustee of the Foundation.
Bill Ritchie – Second-generation Club enthusiast who has written and presented talks
Leatha Stewart – Trustee, Engineers Club of Dayton Foundation
Staff – Serving for over 25 years, Receptionist/Secretary Brenda McQueen has witnessed
much of the club’s history.
Club Library – Open to members
The Engineers Club retains a fascinating history of itself in newsletters, scrapbooks,
member directories and other records, thanks to the former presence of a club Librarian.
Newsletters from the earliest issues are in the scrapbooks (below). The Dayton Metro
Library contains bound volumes of Engineers Club newsletters from the mid-1940s through
about 1980, as well as related literature. This collection nicely overlaps newsletters
kept in the Club library, which includes a few scattered copies from the 1950s through
the mid-70s, plus near-continuous issues from the mid-1980s to the present. Notable:
the Valley of the Giants series profiled prominent members, running between 1985
through 1999. Company profiles also ran in that period.
Amazingly, most newsletters survive from the dawn of the club up through the present.
Notices of speakers, dinners, picnics and other events reveal a group with style
and panache who had a lot of serious, first-class fun over the years. Perennial hot
topics include engineering, national touring speakers and what’s on the menu. The
history also inadvertently records our changing society, the roles of women and minorities,
Even the ads, graphics and editing styles reveal much about the times, membership
and newsletter creators. And then there’s the eternal parking problem.
Scrapbooks contain newsletters, club correspondence, speaker notices and misc. literature
from club origin through early 1940s. This nearly overlaps newsletters at Dayton
Printed Member Directories covering different decades can be found in the club library
and at the Dayton Metro Library.