Let’s take a trip into the past. It’s 1931 and Richard Harvey Wright has died. His two nephews, Richard Harvey Jr. and Thomas Davenport were running the Wright’s Automatic Machinery Company. They decided to move the manufacturing company to Durham where they purchased the Yarborough Hosiery Mills Building for $12,000. Given it was in the Great Depression, they took advantage of the low price and began building their first machine, a machine that made tea bags.
Their client, Willoughby McCormick demonstrated the machine that made tea bags at the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago. During the 1930’s the company expanded to produce machines that packaged tobacco, food, liquor and hosiery.
Then in the early 40’s Wright’s Automatic Machinery Company pursued northeastern corporations for defense contracts. So in 1941, the Defense Plant Corporation erected a new building for the use of creating machines for the war. The building is two stories tall and 106,000 square feet. Given it was built by the government, Wright Automatic Machinery Company leased the building from the government and began manufacturing war supplies on Easter weekend of 1942.
Wright’s Machinery continued until the 1980’s where it built components for several of the NASA projects. It went into partnership with the Sperry Rand Corporation who had been working on a design for a mechanical arm used on the Space Shuttle.
Today, the building is on the National Register of Historic Places and is owned by Donald Yarboro. A large part of the building is used as a police substation and the other part is used to warehouse equipment for the VA. A couple of days ago, my husband and I met Donald over at 921 Holloway Street for a tour. And I must admit, I felt like I was stepping back in time.
As we got ready to leave, I spotted an old 1941 sedan in the parking lot. Donald told us how the automobile industry had stopped making vehicles in 1942 until the war was over. He had the Wright Machinery Logo painted on the side as a reminder of the time period when the machinery company was at its peak.
It was so cool to visit this building and realize how my grandfather and his brother continued Richard Harvey Wright’s dream of creating machines. I know he would’ve been ecstatic to know what he started in 1893 as cigarette packaging machine ultimately took people into space.
My new historical fiction book, A Story of Durham, is scheduled to release in September 2023!
For the past two years, I have been researching and writing about my grandfather’s uncle, Richard Harvey Wright. When I began my search, I knew very little about this man except that he was one of the founding fathers of Durham, North Carolina. But what I discovered was a story of passion, love, and a determination to succeed with no boundaries. My new book, A Story of Durham: Told the Wright Way, will cause you to reflect on your own history and hopefully create in you a desire to study your past to understand your presence.
Read the first chapter and stay tuned for more updates!