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Collection Wilbur and Orville Wright Papers at the Library of Congress

Starting the Business

Page from Patent of O. & W. Wright Flying Machine, May 22, 1906

It took the Wrights more than three years to obtain the patent that they originally sought in 1903, but when it was finally granted, it was exactly what they wanted. Following the solid advice of their experienced patent attorney, Henry A. Toulmin of Springfield, Ohio, the Wrights decided to patent not just the mechanisms that allowed them to warp or flex a wing but, more importantly, to patent the idea of warping itself. Toulmin advised the brothers that obtaining a very broad patent able to defeat all challenges in court would take time, and that, in the meantime, they should not allow details of their invention to become public. The Wrights therefore decided on secrecy until their patent was secured, during which time they continued to work at building a real, practical machine.

Coded Telegram, Wilbur Wright to Orville Wright, July 1, 1907

During the spring of 1907, Wilbur spent nine weeks in Paris without Orville to negotiate for the sale of their machines to the French. He was accompanied by Hart O. Berg, an American who lived in France and worked for Flint & Company, the firm that Wilbur and Orville had hired to handle their foreign business. Orville joined Wilbur at the end of July; until that time, they communicated by letter and by cable. To ensure secrecy, the brothers used a standard Flint & Company code for their overseas cable communications. This telegram contains an original coded message and Wilbur's handwritten decoding, or translation. Since their messages were typically cryptic as well as coded, the brothers sometimes misunderstood each other.

U. S. Signal Corps Contract with the Wright Brothers, February 10, 1908

The Wrights had offered their machine for sale to the U.S. War Department as early as January 1905, but three years had passed before the federal government developed serious interest. In the first formal Army airplane contract signed by the Wrights and the U. S. Signal Corps, the brothers promise to deliver, in two hundred days, a heavier-than-air flying machine that meets the Corps' Specification No. 486. The major specifications stipulate that the machine be capable of carrying two persons at a speed of forty miles per hour, staying in the air for at least one hour, and landing without serious damage. For this, the Wrights received $25,000.

[Patent, 22 May 1906]. Subject File: Patents--By Wright Brothers --USA--filed 23 March 1903, patented 22 May 1906. Wilbur and Orville Wright Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.
[Contract, 10 February 1908]. Subject File: United States--War Department --Army Signal Corps--Correspondence, 1908. Wilbur and Orville Wright Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.