The Wright Brothers' Plane Patent Was Misplaced for 36 Years

By Bryan Menegus on at

The patent for the Wright Brothers’ “flying machine,” the invention that gave birth to modern aviation as we know it, was returned to the National Archives earlier this week. What’s strange is that it was never missing in the first place.

While it’s fun to imagine Orville and Wilbur’s plans as the centrepiece of an Oceans Eleven-style heist, the truth of its absence is far more pedestrian: someone simply misplaced it.

In 1978, the patent—along with several other documents of historical importance—were lent to the Smithsonian Institution’s Air and Space Museum for the 75th anniversary of the Wrights’ first successful flight. The patent was marked as returned but filed it incorrectly back at the National Archives, and due to this clerical error it took over three decades for someone to find. Given how much is stored there (269 million pages worth), its hard to blame them.