2016 Press Releases

National Archives Honors Wright Brothers with Upcoming Special Display
Press Release · Thursday, March 24, 2016

Washington, DC

Display celebrates 110th anniversary of awarding of the patent for a Flying-Machine

The National Archives Museum celebrates the 110th anniversary of the awarding of the patent to Orville and Wilbur Wright with a special document display that will open to the public on May 20, 2016.

On March 23, 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright filed a patent application for a "Flying-Machine." (View images online) The patent was awarded on May 22, 1906 and assigned patent number 821,393. Portions of the file were last displayed in 1979 to commemorate 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.

The missing patent file was located this week following a search as part of a special program launched to recover alienated and stolen archival materials. It was discovered to have been misfiled among more than 269 million pages of patent records held by the National Archives.

In announcing the upcoming display, Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero stated, “The discovery of this misfiled record highlights our unwavering commitment to the recovery of alienated and stolen historical records as part of our immense responsibility as stewards of the records we hold in trust for the American people.”

Selected pages of the patent file will be displayed in the National Archives Museum’s West Rotunda Gallery starting on May 20, 2016. The exact length of the display will be determined following the conclusion of a preservation assessment by subject matter experts.

Background on the Loss and Recovery

Portions of the patent file were last displayed at the Smithsonian Institution’s Air and Space Museum in 1978 and 1979 to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Wright Brother’s First Flight. The loaned pages were recorded as returned to the National Archives but subsequently the entire patent file could not be located and has been highlighted as missing until today. The National Archives holds more than 107,600 cubic feet of patent files. This patent file was inadvertently refiled in the wrong box. The patent file was discovered on March 22nd as part of a targeted search directed by the Archival Recovery Program.

Background on the Archival Recovery Program

The Office of the Inspector General at the National Archives created an Archival Recovery Team in 2006. In August 2015, responsibility for non-law enforcement recovery activities was transferred to the National Archives. Since August, 2015, in addition to locating the misfiled "Flying-Machine" patent, the Archival Recovery Program has recovered nine Presidential pardons (dating from 1849 to 1877) and one George E. Pickett (future Confederate General) letter from 1857, all known to have been previously stolen from the holdings of the National Archives. For more information on the Program, contact investigative archivist Mitchell Yockelson, 301-837-3153. Visit the Archival Recovery Program web page.

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For press information contact the National Archives Public Affairs staff at 202-357-5300.

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