The original patent for the Wright brothers’ ‘flying machine’ has been found in a cave

Orville Wright in a Wright-designed plane with a 12hp engine near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, with brother Wilbur running alongside. Picture: Getty Images

One of the most famous patents of all time, the Wright brothers’ filing for a “flying machine”, has been found – again.

Originally filed on March 23, 1903, the patent had been kept in the US National Archives in Washington, D.C.

It reads:

“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.”

It wasn’t until six months later that the pair actually carried out the first controlled powered human flight and the patent was eventually granted in 1906.

The original patent. Picture: US Patent Office

But when archivists went searching for it in 2000, it was nowhere to be found.

Further investigation revealed the actually hadn’t been sighted since 1979, when they were reportedly returned to the National Archives after being lent out to the Smithsonian for an exhibition.

But with massive archives being massive archives, “if somebody puts something back in the wrong place, it’s essentially lost,” William J. Bosanko, the chief operating officer of the National Archives told the Washington Post.

That was one assumption. The other was that the patent had been stolen. Whichever was the case, it’s taken 36 years for it to turn up again.

Chris Abrahams had only been with the National Archive’s recovery team a few weeks before he decided to act “on a hunch” and go after the famous files.

He knew the Wright brothers had several other patents tucked away in a limestone cave in Lenexa, Kansas, one of 18 seperate holding facilities around the US used by the National Archives.

It seemed a natural place to start, and after several weeks combing through boxes with assistant Bob Beebe, they found a manila folder labeled “Wright Brothers’ Patents” – in the very last box they opened.

And yes, there were the missing documents, filed very sensibly away in probably the first box anyone should have looked in.