The Wright Stuff

In early 1910, this Chamber of Commerce made the most significant economic development achievement in its history. That relatively simple, yet brilliant, initiative by the business leaders of the day laid the foundation of what is today Maxwell-Gunter AFB, home of Air University – the intellectual and leadership center of the United States Air Force.

It began in February 1910 when Fred S. Ball, Sr., president of the Montgomery Commercial Club (the Chamber’s predecessor), recognized Wilbur Wright walking near the Court Square fountain and approached him regarding his visit to Montgomery.

Wright explained that he was seeking a location to establish a temporary training facility for pilots of his new invention, the airplane. Being an aggressive “Chamber developer,” Ball introduced Wright to Frank D. Kohn, a Montgomery businessman who owned a plantation site suitable for the venture. Kohn generously made the site available to Wright free of charge, and the Commercial Club (through the efforts of its members) secured the funds to erect a hanger facility to house the airplane and conduct training.

The residents of the community watched for months, fascinated as this craft lifted off the cotton field and flew over the residents near the downtown area and along the river. This economic development initiative with the Wrights, albeit short lived, lit a fire of passion for flight that has resonated in Montgomery now for 100 years!

Fueled by the opportunities presented by aviation, Montgomery business leaders created a strategy to secure aviation-based economic development. First came Taylor Field in 1917, as military aviation rapidly expanded during World War I, and then again in 1918, when Wright’s Field was opened as an engine and repair depot on the original Wright Brothers training site.

Later named Maxwell AFB, growth and prestige came quickly from the relocation of the Army Air Corp Tactical School, where strategies and tactics of airpower were developed and implemented to great acclaim in World War II. These achievements led to the  March 1946 formation of Air University, now known as the intellectual and leadership center of the United States Air Force. 

Most recognize the importance of a Maxwell-Gunter’s $1.5 billion economic impact; however, I believe an even greater benefit of this phenomenal entity is the contribution of its people. They are among the world’s most well trained, well educated population – many of whom have lived all over the world, and some of whom are international world leaders. 

This large presence of individuals and families, with its incredible array of diversity, intelligence and leadership, engage daily in the civic aspects of our community– our churches, our schools and our neighborhoods – giving Montgomery a more cosmopolitan flavor, especially for a city in the Deep South. Certainly, the presence of Maxwell-Gunter and Air University make Montgomery a far better place in which to live, work and play.

Freedom truly is not free, and I know that the citizens of Montgomery and the River Region are justifiably proud knowing that, through the contributions of their neighbors, the men and women of Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base, they have a major stake in securing peace throughout the world.

Randall L. George,PUBLISHER