The river walk begins at the northeast corner of Main Street and Monument Avenue
with an 8”x 8” brick medallion in the pavement. This medallion claims Dayton to
be the Innovation Capital of the World, by virtue of the fact that Dayton, throughout
much of its history, has had more inventions per capita than any city in the United
States. This acclaim was first achieved, not in the wondrous years of the Wright
Brothers and during Charles F. Kettering, but earlier, in the 1800s. So it wasn't
these famous sons who spawned a climate of innovation in Dayton as many assume,
but perhaps it was the climate of innovation already existing in Dayton that spawned
our famous sons and some of the world's most revered inventors
The Dayton Inventor's River Walk includes seven invention stations along Monument
Avenue and Patterson Boulevard that celebrate Dayton inventions, sometimes in surprising
ways. And Dayton has scores more stories of innovation to tell. The brick medallions
continue down Monument Avenue and Patterson Boulevard leading the way along the
walk and telling the stories of other Dayton inventors. These stories include Joe
Desch, who cracked the German “Enigma” code and put the Allies on course for victory
in World War II, as well as the origins of cellophane, digital watches, recycled
newsprint, Freon and “Star Wars” technology.
Automobile Self Starter
Charles F. Kettering led the automotive world in innovation for decades and was
a prolific inventor. Vincent G. Apple holds the record for the greatest number of
patents in Dayton at 350. Prior to Kettering's invention,
drivers frequently broke their arms crank-starting their cars. Kettering's automatic
starter ended the pain of starting cars with the turn of a key introduced on the
1912 Cadillac. A pavilion commemorates the starter at the west end of RiverScape.
The pavilion also includes some of Kettering's clever quotes for which he was famous.
One story that reveals Kettering's ingenuity as well as his sense of humor involved
painting new cars. The process took over a month and that was too long. Kettering
developed a paint that would dry in a few minutes, but he still had to convince
General Motors it would work. He took a skeptic to lunch one day. When they emerged
from the restaurant the man couldn't find his car. “Isn't that your car?” Kettering
said. “My car isn't that color,” the man replied. Kettering raised his eyebrows.
“It is now.”
Hydraulic Jump Fountain
Arthur P. Morgan came to Dayton after the 1913 flood to design a flood control system
to protect the entire Miami Valley. One element of this system was a dry dam—a dam
that held water only during a flood and released the water at a rate that the downstream
riverbed could carry. The problem was that the speed of the water through the dam
made it powerful and destructive. To solve that problem, Morgan went with Col. Edward
Deeds to his farm in Moraine where they built models in his swimming pool. They
developed the hydraulic jump, which sends water through a series of baffles and
steps, and then finally into a low wall that forces the water back onto itself,
dissipating its own energy. This process of turning water onto itself is the hydraulic
jump. From there, the water flows downstream calmly. This technology is still used
in hydrological engineering throughout the world. RiverScape demonstrates the hydraulic
jump in the fountain that falls down the levee from Festival Plaza to the harbor.
When searching on the Internet for “MetroParks and RiverScape or Van Cleve Park
not Deed's Point,” you'll not only find some great websites, but you'll be employing
the Boolean search method that was developed in downtown Dayton. This method of
searching, which uses “and,” “or,” and “not” to define parameters, was so successful
that it led to LexisNexis becoming a leading source of information, perhaps the
information source leader in the world. The aspect of this search engine that made
it more successful than others is that it was “scaleable,” meaning that it worked
well no matter how many parameters were applied or how much information was searched.
The search engine invention station at RiverScape will allow you to do some searching
of your own - come see what you can find.
The full scale stainless steel replica of the Wright Brothers' 1905 flyer, the one
in which Orville claimed the brothers really learned to fly, was created for RiverScape
by Alabama artist Larry Godwin. The flyer is poised in mid-take-off with Wilbur
at the controls and Orville looking over his shoulder at his brother from the ground.
Wilbur and Orville owned a bicycle shop during the time they developed their flying
machine, and it was the box for a bicycle tube that led to their success where others
had failed. Wilbur held the small rectangular box, open at each end, and twisted
it. In that movement he imagined “wing-warping,” the concept they applied to control
the plane in the air. A series of quotes in the pavement beneath the flyer reveal
the brothers' consuming fascination with flight and their unbending persistence
that led to their success as the inventors of the heavier-than-air flying machine.
Ermal Fraze, owner of Dayton Reliable Tool and Manufacturing Company, invented the
familiar pop-top aluminum can. The legend goes that, in the late 1950s, Fraze was
at a family picnic and wanted a beer, but had forgotten the can opener. He was forced
to employ the bumper of his car to open the beer. In his frustration, Fraze vowed
to develop an easy-opening can. The first shipments of the pop top can went to the
Iron City brewery, and the public response was enthusiastic. The Pop Top Invention
Station is one of the stations that will surprise you—we won't say how. Visit RiverScape
to find out.
John Patterson, founder of NCR, did not invent the cash register as many people
assume. Patterson was an entrepreneur who bought the patent from the two Dayton
brothers who had invented the “Incorruptible Cashier.” James Ritty, a saloonkeeper,
came up with the idea after losing so much money to thieving clerks. On an ocean
voyage, Ritty visited the engine room where he saw a machine that counted the rotations
of the ship's propeller. He partnered with his brother John, a machinist, to develop
the first cash register. Patterson first bought two registers; then five years later,
in 1884, he bought the company that held Ritty's patents, sight unseen. The company
was in tremendous debt and had a horrible reputation. Within four years, however,
Patterson had turned the young company around so completely that it was unable to
keep up with orders. That company was National Cash Register.
Ice Cube Trays
Information taken from The Grand Eccentrics, Mark Bernstein, 1996.
So many of Dayton's inventions have become common in our daily lives. Vincent G.
Apple brought electricity to rural homes; Dr. William H. Charch invented cellophane;
E.R. Churchwell, working in the Biltmore Hotel, developed the first collapsible
baby crib. The ice cube tray is another such invention. Arthur Frei, working at
Frigidaire, developed twenty-three patents on the ice cube tray. One of his most
significant developments was the quick release lever on top of the tray that dislodged
the cubes. Prior to that, the metal tray had to be soaked in hot water to free the