Missing patent for Wright Brothers’ “Flying Machine” found after 36 years

One of history’s greatest patent applications, missing for over 35 years, was found on March 22nd. Last seen in 1980 when it was returned to the National Archives after being on loan to the Smithsonian Museum for an exhibit, record keepers realized the patent file for “Invention: Flying Machine” was missing in 2000 after trying to locate the document for commemorative purposes.

Patent No. 821,393 was found in a limestone cave reserved for special records in Lenexa, KS where it ended up after disappearing in 1980. Experts have been searching for it ever since.

How did such a treasured piece of American history end up in a cave 1,000 miles from DC? Most likely through a filing mistake decades ago. “Unfortunately, with billions of pieces of paper, things sometimes go where they shouldn’t be”, stated National Archives and Records Administration Chief Operating Officer William J. Bosanko.

The Wrights applied for a patent on March 23, 1903, less than a month after they started building the flyer. It was nine more months before they got it in the air on December 17, 1903 in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The flight lasted 12 seconds and covered 120 feet.

The patent document begins: “Be it known that we Orville Wright and Wilbur Wright, both citizens of the United States, residing in the city of Dayton and state of Ohio, have jointly invented a new and useful machine for navigating the air.”

I guess you could say they were (w)right.

Complete coverage from the Washington Post. 


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