This Day in the Law
May 22

Wright Brothers Granted Patent for "Flying Machine" (1906)

On May 22, 1906, the Wright brothers were granted U.S. patent number 821,393 for their "Flying-Machine" invention. After nearly two thousands years since the first recorded attempt at human flight, the Wright brothers became the first to successfully develop, fly, and patent a heavier-than-air fixed-wing aircraft.

The Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur Wright, developed their mechanical skills over many years of work in their bicycle repair shop in Dayton, Ohio. In particular, the Wright brothers worked on bicycles, presses, motors, and other machines and gradually began experimenting with flying machines. They believed they could create a balanced flying machine through the use of controls, an engine, and the four dynamics of aviation (e.g. lift, drag, pull, and gravity). They conducted extensive glider tests, developed control mechanisms, and mastered the skills to be pilots.

In December 1903, in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, the Wright brothers made world history when they flew the first controlled and powered heavier-than-air human flight in their new invention – the airplane. Although the Wright brothers were not the first to experiment with aircraft, they were the first to invent aircraft controls that made fixed-wing flight possible.

On this day, May 22, 1906, the Wright brothers received U.S. patent 821,393 for an invention that created a system of aerodynamic controls to manipulate their new flying machine. In other words, the Wright brothers patented the controls to make fixed-wing flight possible.

If you drive through Ohio or North Carolina, you’ll likely see what appear to be similar mottos on the states’ license plates. For example, Ohio license plates say, "Birthplace of Aviation," while North Carolina plates say, "First in Flight." Both license plates are technically correct. The Wright Brothers created, tested, and developed their ideas for flight in their hometown of Dayton, Ohio. But the first actual flight occurred in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

After the Wright brothers’ first flight and patent, they continued to fly near their home at Huffman Prairie field in Dayton, Ohio. As a tribute to the Wright brothers and the birthplace of aviation, the U.S. Air Force built the largest U.S. Air Force base in the United States in Dayton, Ohio called Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (WPAFB). There is also an Air and Space Museum at WPAFB that is one of the largest in the world – and free to the public. We recommend that you visit it if you get the chance!

Since the Wright brothers’ first flight, developments in aviation have been remarkable. We have developed jets, supersonic jets, spaceships, and flown to the Moon and beyond the Milky Way. The developments in aviation seem only to be limited to our imagination and we owe our birth in aviation to the foresight and perseverance of the Wright brothers.