Lost Wright Brothers' 'Flying Machine' Patent Resurfaces
The patent file for the Wright brothers’ original “Flying Machine” has returned to the National Archives, after being misplaced 36 years ago.
The long-missing patent paperwork filed by aviation pioneers Orville and Wilbur Wright on March 23,1903, included a diagram of their invention, their petition for patent approval, the patent registry form, and their patent oath, affirming that “they verily believe themselves to be the original, joint inventors” of the so-called “Flying Machine.”
The Wright brothers didn’t wait for the patent to be granted to take flight. On Dec. 17, 1903, the brothers lofted their flying machine into the air for 12 seconds, flying 120 feet at Kitty Hawk, on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. And a little more than three years after filing, the Wright brothers were granted their patent: number 821,393, assigned on May 22, 1906. Read more.
On December 17, 1903, brother Orville and Wilbur Wright flew the first motor powered aircraft in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Although the popular mythology has the two bicycle mechanics laboring in obscurity in their bike shop in Ohio, they were racing to achieve the inevitable as teams around the world worked to become the first to achieve flight. The Wright Flyer was based on a glider from France, the Wrights realizing critically that a vertical rudder was a necessary component. Of the final flight, Orville said:
Wilbur started the fourth and last flight at just about 12 o'clock. The first few hundred feet were up and down, as before, but by the time three hundred ft had been covered, the machine was under much better control. The course for the next four or five hundred feet had but little undulation. However, when out about eight hundred feet the machine began pitching again, and, in one of its darts downward, struck the ground. The distance over the ground was measured to be 852 feet; the time of the flight was 59 seconds. The frame supporting the front rudder was badly broken, but the main part of the machine was not injured at all. We estimated that the machine could be put in condition for flight again in about a day or two.
With that understated report, the dawn of air travel began. The Wrights, however, did not call that first machine an airplane. The French had been using aeroplane since 1866, coined using the Ancient Greek aero- meaning air and the French word planer meaning to soar. Lord Byron had used ‘air vessel’ as early as 1822 to denote a heavier than air craft, but it took a couple of years in English before airplane was common, generally acknowledged between 1905 and 1907. The trouble with dating it is that no sooner had the airplane’s rudders touched the sand than misinformation began, followed shortly thereafter by lawsuits and patent claims. A newspaper article in the New York Herald published in Paris, France summed up the skepticism:
The Wrights have flown or they have not flown. They possess a machine or they do not possess one. They are in fact either fliers or liars. It is difficult to fly. It’s easy to say, ‘We have flown.’
Five people witnessed the first flight, which covered 852 feet in 59 seconds: Adam Etheridge, John T. Daniels and Will Dough, all of the U.S. government coastal lifesaving crew, businessman W.C. Brinkley; and Johnny Moore, a young boy who lived nearby. John Daniels took the historic photograph, and history was made.
On this day in History December 17, 1903: Brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright made the first successful man-powered airplane flight, near Kitty Hawk, N.C. The article Testimony to Flight from the National Archives website describes the events of December 17, 1903:
Surfmen John T. Daniels, Robert Westcott, William Beacham, W. S. Dough, and Benny O’Neal helped them get the flying machine to the hill on December 14 and witnessed Wilbur Wright’s unsuccessful flying attempt that day.
Because the Wrights wanted a strong wind for their next test flight, they waited until the early morning of December 17 to signal the station. At the time of the flight, there was a 23–27 mile-an-hour wind, and it was bitterly cold. Soon, Surfmen Daniels, Dough, and Adam D. Etheridge arrived on the scene.
Wilbur and Orville flipped a coin to see who would fly first. At 10:35 a.m., as the plane left the ground, Daniels, using Orville’s camera, took a photograph of the first plane in flight with Orville at the controls and Wilbur alongside. The Wrights made three more flights on December 17, each taking a turn as pilot. After the fourth flight, a sudden gust of wind rolled the machine over. Surfman Daniels, with Orville and Wilbur’s help, tried to rescue the machine from the wind. Daniels was bruised in the attempt to save the machine, and the plane was seriously damaged, so no more flights were possible that day. The Wright brothers left the wings with Adam Etheridge and returned to Dayton, OH, with their engine.
The top photograph is “Original Wright Brothers 1903 Aeroplane (‘Kitty Hawk’) in first flight, December 17, 1903, at Kitty Hawk, NC. Orville Wright at controls. Wilbur Wright at right (First flight was 12 seconds)”By Orville Wright and John T. Daniels, December 17, 1903 (165-WW-713-6); Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs; Record Group 165; National Archives.
Orville and Wilbur Wright’s patent for their “Flying Machine” has been found!
In 1979, select pages from the patent file were loaned out for the 75th anniversary of the Wright brothers’ first flight. However, after the loaned pages were returned to the National Archives, the patent file went missing – until this week! As part of the National Archives’ Archival Recovery Program, an archivist in Kansas City discovered the file had been misfiled among more than 269 million pages of patent records held by the National Archives (@usnatarchives).
The recovered patent was submitted by the Wright brothers on March 23, 1903. It was initially rejected, so they hired a patent attorney in 1904 and it was granted on May 22, 1906, as U.S. Patent 821,393. The last time the patent was displayed was at the @smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in 1979.
Select pages of the Flying-Machine patent will be on display in the National Archives’ West Rotunda Gallery starting on May 20, 2016, in celebration of the 110th anniversary of the document.
“Bystanders help extricate the mortally wounded US Army (USA) Lieutenant (LT) Thomas Selfridge from the wreck of the Wright Brothers Flyer after its crash at Fort Myer, Virginia (VA). At right, several men attend the injuries of Orville Wright, who lies on the ground at their feet, 09/17/1908”
Nov. 12, 1911: “To make travel in the air virtually as safe as it is on earth is known to be the real purpose of the experiments which the Wright brothers are conducting,” The Times wrote a couple of weeks before this photo was published, as Orville, pictured, and his brother Wilbur sought the secret to stabilizing their planes once in the air — that is, keeping them level. Although Orville Wright suffered a spooky tumble from his glider during experiments on Oct. 24, damaging his “heavier than air” machine, the next day he spent nearly 10 minutes aloft. Photo: The New York Times
Happy birthday, Orville Wright - and happy National Aviation Day to everyone!
The pioneering aviator was born today in 1871 in Dayton, Ohio. Orville and his brother Wilbur are famous for making the first sustained human flight aboard their airplane the Wright Flyer in 1903, and developing a method of control for fixed wing aircraft that remains the industry standard today.
One of seven siblings, Orville’s love of flying stemmed from a helicopter toy that his father bought the brothers. Once the helicopter broke, the brothers built their own to replace it, and so began their lifelong love affair with the skies. Wilbur began designing his own flying machine in the 1890s. However, it was his younger brother Orville, wearing a suit and tie and lying on the wing of the Wright Flyer, who completed the first manned flight lasting 12 seconds on December 17, 1903 in the Outer Banks, North Carolina. The brothers flew their plane 3 more times, with Wilbur’s last flight lasting over a minute.
Despite early skepticism from the public, the Wright brothers’ invention soon became a household name. When Wilbur died of typhoid fever in 1912, Orville took over the business, but sold the company shortly afterward. Up until his own death in 1948, he remained an active member of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics - which would become the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (nasa) - and was awarded the first Daniel Guggenheim Medal in 1928 for his contribution to aeronautics.
Note: .gifs are not all from the same flight. See the full video we pulled them from, the U.S. Air Force film Make America First in the Air, at catalog.archives.gov/id/65523
Happy National Aviation Day! Earlier this year, we were flying high (sorry, couldn’t resist!) when an archivist discovered this gem in the John Fenn Papers. Flugmaschine Wrightis the first sales brochure for a Wright Brothers plane, published in 1909 after the company secured exclusive rights to manufacture Flyers in Germany. Flugmaschine Wright even predates the American Wright Company and the catalog is extremely rare; in addition to our copy, OCLC only lists copies at the Library of Congress and U.S. Air Force Academy.