Harry A. Orme, Aviator and Inventor

 

Tunlaw Farm was bought by John F. Waggaman, who subdivided it in 1890, and built five houses. In 1891, at the intersection of Tunlaw Road and Hartford Street (now New Mexico Avenue and Hawthorne Street), Waggaman built a house that was bought in 1906 by Harry A. Orme and his wife Thaddenia.

The young couple appears in the 1910 census, with three children, born between 1904 and 1908. Mr. Orme, age 25, is listed as having no profession. Orme could afford not to have a job; his father, James William Orme, a Georgetown resident, had been a prosperous Washington grocery merchant, a ”heavy stockholder in the Washington Gas Light Company”, and had died a wealthy man.

As a Georgetown University student, Harry Orme had followed the experiments of––and become acquainted with––aviation pioneer Samuel P. Langley (1834-1906); and, at about the time that Orme set up housekeeping in Wesley Heights, he contracted what his wife later characterized as “aviation mania”, and began building flying machines. Although there is a mention of a hangar at the Tunlaw Road house (Washington Post, November 6, 1911, p.1; Washington Times, September 9, 1919, p.4), Wesley Heights was apparently not the main scene of Orme’s experiments; he had his primary workshop at Valley View, his father’s summer place on Brightwood (i.e. Georgia) Avenue, north of what is now Van Buren Street.

 

The Orme property called Valley View (Baist map of Washington, 1911)

The Orme property called Valley View. (Baist map of Washington, 1911)

 

The Orme flying machine had characteristic flexible oval wing at the top. (“Aeroplane Gossip”, Washington Post, January 2, 1910, p.CA3)

 

Should the result of his experiments be successful, Orme intended to offer his machine to the Aeronautical Division of the Signal Corps. In 1909 the Signal Corps permitted any inventor who had a flying machine to fly it at the Signal Corps’s airfield in College Park, Maryland––“the world’s oldest continuously operated airport”––where two future military pilots were being trained on the “Military Flyer” by Wilbur Wright. On Christmas Day, 1909, Orme’s plane was damaged during takeoff, when a wire snapped and fouled the propeller. Orme stated that it would be repaired and tests resumed. In 1912, when there were four planes in the air at one time over College Park, Harry A. Orme was flying a Wright plane.

Orme’s Brightwood workshop appears to have been busy right up to the outbreak of the Great War, when he turned over his newest model, the “Liberty Bond” to the War Department. Orme was described at the time as having invented more than twenty-five devices used on aeroplanes.

During the war Orme worked for the Standard Aircraft Corporation, in New Jersey. In 1919 Orme, a “wealthy manufacturer of aviation instruments”, was living on Tunlaw Road, when he reported that thieves had entered his airplane hangar at his home and attempted to remove the motor from an airplane. The thieves also entered his home, but were scared off.

 

 

Orme’s family was not mentioned in that report; over time, however, accounts of Orme’s aviation experiments are outnumbered two-to-one by stories of Mr. and Mrs. Orme’s protracted separation and divorce.

By one account, Harry A. Orme and Thaddenia Woodson Orme were married in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1902; by another account, in Baltimore, in 1904. Either way, by 1907 they had had their first separation, and they separated again in 1909. Orme went to live with his mother, while his family remained on Tunlaw Road. Thaddenia Orme petitioned for separate maintenance and support, and claimed a share of the $100,000 inheritance her husband was to come into. She charged that her husband had devoted most of his time to his inventions, and had abandoned his family in Wesley Heights “without neighbors and without protection”.

Late in 1911 Mrs. Orme petitioned for divorce of grounds of desertion, and brought suit against Mr. Orme’s family, the trustees of his father’s estate, as well. The family’s countersuit charged that Mr. Orme had been obliged to leave his wife because she had been poisoning him. When Orme requested custody of their children, Mrs. Orme left with her three children (one of whom had apparently died by 1916). In 1912, when Mr. Orme’s mother died, her will entirely cut off her daughter-in-law and grandchildren (and was tight-fisted with her son as well).

Orme was living in on Tunlaw Road again in 1919, when his oldest son returned home with a lurid account of recent years. Later that year his daughter was arrested in New York City, collecting alms on behalf of her mother. Mrs. Orme––now Mrs. Ruth Hastings––became a fugitive from justice. Mr. Orme, charging that his wife lived with a man named Hastings, and sent her children out to steal, renewed his petition for custody.

The 1920 census shows the children were living at Oella Mill, near Baltimore. Their father was now at 1336 Eye Street in Washington (profession: real estate agent) with his new wife Edith, and with a three-month old son. (This second wife was Edith Orbello Orme (1890-1947), a Washington schoolteacher.)

 

Deaths.––Harry A. Orme, 35 years, 1336 Eye st. nw. (Washington Times, June 9, 1920, p.19)

Harry Anthony Orme.––Funeral Services for Harry Anthony Orme, thirty-six years old, son of the late Mr. and Mrs. James W. Orme, of this city, who died Sunday at his residence, 6600 Georgia avenue, northwest, were held yesterday at his home. Interment was in Oak Hill Cemetery.

Mr. Orme was born in Washington. He received his education at St. John’s College, Mount St. Mary’s College, Emmitsburg, Md., and Georgetown University. During the war he was connected with the Standard Aircraft Corporation of Elizabeth, N.J.

He is survived by his wife, Mrs. Edith Orme; two sons, a daughter, and four brothers, all of Washington.

(Washington Times, June 9, 1920, p.19)

 

Harry A. Orme and his second wife are buried in Oak Hill Cemetery, Georgetown. Orme’s will was set aside in 1925, on the grounds that he had not been of sound mind a few months before his death, when he executed the will; his $100,000 estate reverted to his two surviving children by his first wife, and to his second wife.

 

 

 

 

 

Notes and Sources

 

4241 Hawthorne Street NW

Square 1700, lot 800

Building Permit No. 1758, March 18, 1891

Owner/architect/builder: John F. Waggaman

Cost $2,500

 

Funeral of Mr. [James William] Orme.––Services Will Be Held To-morrow in St. Matthew’s Catholic Church. (Washington Post, July 30, 1905, p.2)

 

(John H. Nolan et ux. to Harry A. Orme et ux. lots 11 to 20, block 5, $10, Washington Post, June 17, 1906, p.ESA13; 1880 census)

 

(“Orme Ready To Fly.––Aviator Will Try New Aeroplane This Week.––Worked Year On Machine.––Biplane Is Similar to That of Wrights’, Principal Difference Being in Steering Gear––Horizontal Rudder Is Used for Elevating or Depressing Airship. Make Experiments At Brightwood.” Washington Post, August 23, 1909, p.3)

 

“Airship Parts Ormes.––Wife Says Inventor Was Too Devoted to Machine.––Abducted Tots, She Charges––In Suit for Maintenance, Mrs. Orme Declares That Husband, With Aid of Four Men, Removed Their Children in Two Autos––Wants Share of $100,000 Estate”, Washington Post, October 14, 1909, p.5)

 

“Ormes Reach Agreement.––Inventor Gives Wife $1,200 Annually, And Will Share Children”, Washington Post, October 19, 1909, p.11)

 

The Signal Corps of the United States Army has decided to permit the public to use the field where its new Wright aeroplane is to be tested. Any inventor who has an aeroplane or flying machine has permission to take it out on this field, near College Park, Md., and make flights, provided the Wright machine is not being used. It is expected that the offer will prove a boon to inventors. As the signal corps has not spent the money given by the Board of Fortifications and Supplies to purchase the A. M. Herring machine, it is possible that some lucky inventor may yet provide the government with an aeroplane to be purchased from this fund. (E.E. Schwarzkopf, Automobile Topics, 1909, p.1299)

 

“Orme’s Aero Wrecked––Accident Similar to That Which Befell Orville Wright.––Tests Will Be Continued––Two or Three Days Will Suffice to Make Repairs to the Biplane––Propellers, Rudder, and Many Wires Destroyed in Accident––Inventor’s Plans for the Near Future.”, Washington Post, December 27, 1909, p.12)

 

Little Damage Results From Fall Of Airship.––Invention of Harry Orme, with Owner in Seat, Tumbles During Its Trial Flight.––Harry A. Orme’s aeroplane which he has been working on at Brightwood for some months past was injured in a trial there last week, but though the aviator was in the seat, the machine was not off the ground and there was no injury to anybody. The machine it self was not hurt beyond having one of the propellers broken and some of the control wires pulled loose. The Orme machine is a biplane that looks at first sight much like the Wrights’. But it is a rigid machine and instead of flexing wings has an umbrella-like arrangement over the top that can be pulled down at any point on the edge and serves to guide the machine and preserve the balance, It is a smaller machine than either the Wright or Curtiss and weighs, including the engine, only ninety-eight pounds. The third deck arrangement has been tried out on gliders and a small working model and has been found to operate satisfactorily. The man-carrying machine is started from a rail with falling weights like the ‘Wright aeroplane, and several at tempts have been made to get it started, without result. The propellers are small, but revolve at more than twice the speed of any machine now flying, and the inventor depends on this to keep the machine in the air. In the accident last week the machine was about three-quarters of the way down the rail and was apparently just about to rise, when one of [] wires of the control mechanism got loose and mixed with the high-speed propellers. The result was that the whole of the controlling apparatus was wrecked and the machine made a leap forward and landed heavily, but did not hurt the operator. It will take about ten days to make the repairs. It is intended to have the machine [] exhibition at the aero show to be held in conjunction with the automobile show, and it is believed that repairs can be made and possibly some successful flights made before then.

(Washington Star, December ?, 1909)

 

“Prefers Aeroplane To Wife.––Mrs. Orme Says Husband Broke Separation Agreement”, Washington Post, January 11, 1910, p.16

 

The undersigned gives notice that he will not be responsible for, nor pay, any debts contracted after October 28, 1911, by his wife, Thaddenia Woodson Orme.––Harry A. Orme. (Washington Times, November 3, 1911, p.2)

 

“Aviation Is Blamed For Marital Trouble––Wife of Harry A. Orme Says She and Her Children Have Been Ignored Because of Husband’s Flying Experiments”, Washington Post, November 6, 1911, p.1

 

“Divorce Suit To Be Put On Record By Mrs. Orme––Will Charge Husband With Wasting His Money on a Flying Machine”, Washington Post, December 7, 1911, p.9

 

“Orme Trustees Reply”, Washington Post, January 18, 1912, p.10

 

“Extreme Cruelty Charged By Ormes In Divorce Suit––Aeroplane Inventor Files Counter Action Against His Wife”, Washington Times, February 12, 1912, p.11)

 

“Denies She ‘Doped’ Husband’s Food––Mrs. Thaddenia W. Orme Declares She Had to Sell Auto to Buy Necessaries”, Washington Herald, March 20, 1912, p.5)

 

On June 22, 1912 there were four planes in the air at one time over the [College Park] field, the planes being a Wright, a Burgess, a Curtiss and a Columbia monoplane. How unusual this was at this time is shown by a quotation from the Washington Star as follows, “unusual sight for the aviation field. Among the well known fliers of that day who flew at College Park were in addition to Paul Peck, Lincoln Beachey who flew a Wright Gyro, Oscar Brindley, one of the first licensed Wright fliers who flew a Columbia machine, Harry A. Orme who flew a Wright plane with a four cylinder motor cycle engine, and Cecil Peoli, the first man to fly across the Andes in South America. Peoli was killed while testing a machine of his own design assembled for him by the Washington Aeroplane Company. The reason for his crash is laid to the fact that a different engine was installed from the one that the plane was designed for causing the plane to he out of “balance.

(Ralph C. Van Allen, The History of the Aviation Field at College Park, prepared for the Phi Mu Honorary Engineering Fraternity, University of Maryland, 1928)

 

College Park: A.H. Mix was out Thursday morning in the Orme biplane and cut grass for more than an hour, to test the efficiency of a new landing gear that has just been put on. Mix intends to show just what this minute plane will do as soon as some minor changes are made. (Aero and Hydro: America’s Aviation Weekly, ed. Edmond Percy Noël, November 9, 1912, p. 105)

 

“Mrs. E. Orme’s Will Filed.––Son’s Family Cut Off, While H.A. Orme Gets Only $100 a Month”, Washington Post, July 25, 1912, p.12

“Attacks His Mother’s Will.––H.A. Orme Alleges Undue Influence and Seeks a Jury Trial”, Washington Post, October 10, 1912, p.3

 

“Maintenance Decree Illegal, Is Claim––Justice Stafford Issues Rule Following Petition of Harry A. Orme”, Washington Times, August 14, 1916, p.3

“Court Cuts Alimony Allowance in Two”, Washington Times, August 25, 1916, p.6

 

“War Department To Get Novel Aero––‘Liberty Bond’ by Orme Will Show Many Unusual Features”, Washington Post, June 24, 1917, p.6

 

Harry A. Orme, plaintiff, sued Thaddenia W. Orme, Michael Shaunessy, et al, for divorce. (Supreme Court, District of Columbia; Court of Appeals, United States (District of Columbia Circuit), August, 1917: The Washington Law Reporter, Volume 45)

 

“D.C. Airplane Thief Makes Initial Bow”, Washington Times, September 9, 1919, p.4

 

“Mother Kidnaped D.C. Girl To Beg––Harry Orme Recovers Daughter Stolen by Divorced Spouse 9 Years Ago”, Washington Times, September 18, 1919, p.8

 

“Other Man Fagin, Husband Charges––Harry A. Orme Asks Court for Custody of Kiddies Awarded Wife”, Washington Times, October 15, 1919, p.2

 

Deaths.––Harry A. Orme, 35 years, 1336 Eye st. nw. (Washington Times, June 9, 1920, p.19)

Harry Anthony Orme.––Funeral Services for Harry Anthony Orme, thirty-six years old, son of the late Mr. and Mrs. James W. Orme, of this city, who died Sunday at his residence, 6600 Georgia avenue, northwest, were held yesterday at his home. Interment was in Oak Hill Cemetery.

Mr. Orme was born in Washington. He received his education at St. John’s College, Mount St. Mary’s College, Emmitsburg, Md., and Georgetown University. During the war he was connected with the Standard Aircraft Corporation of Elizabeth, N.J.

He is survived by his wife, Mrs. Edith Orme; two sons, a daughter, and four brothers, all of Washington.

(Washington Times, June 9, 1920, p.19)

 

“Orme Will Set Aside After Trial By Jury––Airplane Enthusiasts $100,000 Estate Reverts to Widow and Children”, Washington Post, April 1, 1925, p.2

 

 

 

Partial List of Patents

 

“Holds 15 patents”

 

 

“Aerodrome”

Harry A. Orme, Wesley Heights, D.C., Patent No. 926,593, June 29, 1909: triplane of which highest plane is the controlling one and comprises a series of radial ribs. Means are provided for moving the tips of the ribs both simultaneously or independently in groups. A plurality of front and rear planes are provided for additional control.

 

“Rudder for Aeroplane”

Harry Orme of Wesley Heights, Washington D.C., Patent No. 1,074,063, Application filed December 31, 1910 (Serial No. 600, 253), patented September 23, 1913.

 

“Landing Gear”

Harry A. Orme, Wesley Heights, D.C., Patent No. 1,065,389, June 24, 1913: Landing gear, of flexible design, in which wheels are capable of swinging outwardly for landing on skids, etc.

 

“Electric Soldering-iron”

Harry A. Orme, Washington, D.C., Patent No. 1,215,693, Application filed November 26, 1916: Electrical self-feeding soldering–iron.

 

___________________________________________________________

Carlton Fletcher

 The citation and acknowledgement of my research is greatly appreciated.

All rights reserved.

 

 Questions and corrections may be directed to

carlton@gloverparkhistory.com

 

The support of the Advisory Neighborhood Council (3B) is gratefully acknowledged.