Missing Wright Brothers’ Patent Found In Kansas Cave

A missing Wright Brothers’ patent was found in a Lenexa, Kansas, cave late last month. Prior to its discovery, the document was missing for more than 35 years. Officials said the patent was eventually found by a “cold case squad,” which was deployed by the National Archives Archival Recovery Program.

Fox News reports the Wright Brothers’ patent was last seen in the early 1980s. However, it was not reported missing until 2000 — when officials sought the document for a commemoration ceremony.

Although it was unclear whether the patent was missing or stolen, National Archives and Records Administration Chief Operating Officer William J. Bosanko confirmed the document was simply misfiled.

“Unfortunately, with billions of pieces of paper, things sometimes go where they shouldn’t be… If somebody puts something back in the wrong place, it’s essentially lost… In this case, we didn’t know.”

As reported by the Washington Post, archivist Chris Abraham volunteered to be part of the search and recovery team. Abraham said he has a keen interest in the Wright Brothers and wanted to help locate the missing document.

Although the patent was originally stored in a Washington, D.C., National Archives facility, it was transferred to the Suitland, Maryland, federal records center in 1969.

In the late 1970s, a portion of the Wright Brothers’ patent file was transported back to Washington, D.C., for a Smithsonian exhibit. Although records indicate the documents were returned to Suitland, and the entire file was taken back to the National Archives in 1980, it was actually missing for 35 years.

Archives.org reports there are hundreds of documents currently missing from the National Archives, including Civil War letters and presidential pardons. Other historically significant items that remain missing include Eli Whitney’s cotton gin drawing, the original Nagasaki Target Map, and the Ploesti Mission Report.

Interestingly, the missing Wright Brothers’ patent was eventually located in a limestone cave in Lenexa, Kansas.

The Federal Records Centers in Lee’s Summit, Missouri and Lenexa, Kansas, are built inside limestone caves, 60 feet underground. Warehouse 1 explains “the caves provide a stable environment to store materials due to a constant temperature range in the low 60’s.”

It is unclear how the Wright Brothers’ patent ended up in the Lenexa facility. However, as it was not completed until 2003, the file was moved to the location after that date.

Archivist Chris Abraham said he had a hunch the missing file was somewhere inside the limestone cave. Although it took several days, the archivist said he finally found the documents in the early morning hours of March 22.

The Wright Brothers’ patent states, in part, “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.”

The Wright Brothers, and their place in the history of flight, remains controversial. Although Orville and Wilbur Wright are generally thought to be the first to build a functional aircraft, Gustave Whitehead, of Connecticut, may have beat them by as many as two years.

Popular Mechanics reports there is also controversy surrounding whether flight originated in Ohio, where the Wright brothers lived, or North Carolina, where the flight actually took place.

Although it is unclear whether the Wright Brothers were actually the “First in Flight,” and which state has bragging rights, their inventions, and patents, remain an important part of American history.

Officials confirmed the Wright Brothers’ patent, and other documents from the file, will be on display at the National Archives Museum’s West Rotunda Gallery in Washington, D.C., beginning May 20.

[Image via Elenart/Shutterstock]

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