The century-old patent file for the Wright brothers' pioneering airplane — a file that contained one of history’s greatest patent applications — was found last month after it had gone missing for 36 years.
"If somebody puts something back in the wrong place, it’s essentially lost," National Archives and Records Administration Chief Operating Officer William Bosanko told The Washington Post last.
"In this case, we didn’t know.
"We had to ask ourselves, 'Is it something that could have been stolen?'
"But . . . we felt, I guess, all along . . . that it was probably misfiled," Bosanko added. "And figuring out where is that misfile" was the challenge.
The file was found by Kansas archivist Bob Beebe on March 22 in a special records storage cave in Lenexa, Kan., where it was sent sometime after vanishing around 1980, the Post reports.
It was supposed to have been filed in a special vault at the National Archives in Washington, Bosanko said, but eventually ended up in the Lenexa cave — where many of the Archives' patent records are stored.
The documents were returned to Washington on Tuesday. Parts of the file will be on display at the Archives starting on May 20.
Known as Patent No. 821,393, Orville Wright and Wilbur Wright applied for it on March 23, 1903, less than a month after they began working on their "flying machine," the Post reports.
The aircraft, made mostly of fabric and wood, was flown nine months later, on Dec. 17, 1903.
The flight — at Kill Devil Hills, on the Outer Banks of North Carolina — lasted 12 seconds and covered 120 feet.
The experience marked the world’s first heavier-than-air, powered, controlled flight, according to the National Park Service, which maintains a historic site there, the Post reports.
By the time the patent was granted in 1906, the Wrights' file included letters, affidavits, fee receipts, drawings, photos and examiner’s notes, the Post reports.
One document in the file 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."
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