ON MARCH 23, 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright petitioned the United States government for a patent on their flying machine. Their request was not based on the powered flyer of 1903, but on their 1902 glider. Feeling there was nothing unusual about their motor, the brothers based their request on the uniqueness of their wing-warping system of control, complete with movable rudder. The patent office, which had by that time received more than 50,000 requests for flying machine patents, rejected the Wright brothers’ petition. The letter accompanying their returned application described their drawing and description as ...

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