You Can Now Bid on Orville Wright’s Patent Documents for the Invention of the Airplane


A few rare documents related to the invention of the first successful airplane are up for auction this week, in case you have $25,000 to spare. Three patent documents and a letter from Orville Wright, the younger of the famed Wright brothers, are on sale from L.A.-based Nate D. Sanders Auctions. Both auction lots include Wright's signature. 

The patent documents (one of which can be seen below) are from a patent transfer Wright enacted so that he wouldn’t have to deal with the annoyance of fighting his own legal battles. After being sued in several patent infringement lawsuits in 1915, he sold all his shares in the Wright Company, and his patents, to a New York investment group headed by William Boyce Thompson. The Wright brothers didn’t patent their first airplane, and it wasn’t until 1906 that they got one for the three-axis control system of their 1902 glider (modern planes still use the same control system). Several inventors challenged the brothers for their invention of the plane, and Wright’s patent transfers in 1916 allowed him to let someone else fight it out in court. 

The letter addressed to Connecticut senator Hiram Bingham III is an excellent piece of historical gossip. The 1928 missive is a screed against the government-administered Smithsonian, which Wright alleges “for the past seventeen years has kept up constant propaganda to take the credit for this [inventing the first flying machine] away from my brother and myself.” (In at least one annual report, the Smithsonian had recognized ex-Smithsonian Secretary Samuel P. Langley as the inventor of the airplane.) In return, Wright got a chance to argue the point in front of Congress: A joint resolution included with the letter declares that the president of the U.S. would create a commission to whom Wright and anyone else could present their arguments over who invented the first flying machine. 

If you have a few thousand dollars extra in your historical memorabilia fund, bidding ends January 28 at 5 p.m. PST.

All images courtesy Nate D. Sanders Auctions