The Patent Wars

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lthough Bleriot's flight across the English Channel was the biggest news of the day, it wasn't the news that concerned the Wrights the most. On June 26, Glenn Curtiss of the newly incorporated Herring-Curtiss Company, sold an airplane to the Aeronautical Society of New York — the first private airplane sold in the United States.

After the success of the June Bug, the members of Alexander Graham Bell's Aerial Experiment Association designed and built its final airplane, the Silver Dart. It was the first American aircraft built by a team other than the Wright brothers that performed well enough to be considered a practical aircraft.

Thus encouraged, the AEA considered forming a company to manufacture and sell airplanes. Bell told the members (erroneously, it turned out) that they had not trespassed on the Wright patent. They had, in fact, generated a few patentable ideas of their own. In the midst of these discussions, Curtiss received a telegram from Augustus Herring suggesting that the two form a partnership to build airplanes.

Herring had not returned to Fort Meyer in 1909 to compete with the Wrights for the Army contract. Instead, he chose to continue his farce by announcing that he had passed over the Army business for a more lucrative arrangement with a mysterious "foreign syndicate." He told Curtiss that he had patents that pre-dated the Wrights. Curtiss decided to take Herring up on his offer because he assumed that Herrings patents would protect him against a law suit from the Wrights. He never supposed that the patents were another one of Herring's fictions. Curtiss took his leave of the AEA without telling them what he was up to — they would read about it in the papers.

Curtiss unveiled the Aeronautical Society machine, which he called the Golden Flyer, on June 16, flying it from Morris Park in the Bronx. (The press mistakenly dubbed the aircraft the Gold Bug, mixing up its name with the now famous June Bug.) To put a little extra distance between his airplane designs and the Wrights, he mounted ailerons between the wings of the biplane. He began to make exhibition flights and train students. On July 17, he flew the Golden Flyer for 25 miles and captured the Scientific American Trophy for the second year in a row.

This stretched the Wright's patience to the breaking point. Wilbur filed a patent-infringement suit against Curtiss on August 16 and another on August 19 seeking to prevent the Aeronautical Society from flying the Golden Flyer. It was the first shot in what would become known as the "Patent Wars."

1909 Silver Dart cockpit.jpg (166318 bytes)
A close up of the
Silver Dart.

1909 Silver Dart.jpg (40242 bytes)
Silver Dart lifts off a frozen lake in Nova Scotia -- it was the first airplane to fly in Canada.

1909 Crowd around Curtiss 2j.jpeg (304330 bytes)
A crowd gathers around the newly-delivered
Golden Flyer at Morris Park (later, Aviation Field) in the Bronx, New York.

1909 Curtiss cockpit.jpeg (240670 bytes)
The cockpit of the
Gold Bug.

1909 Curtiss Engine.jpeg (258637 bytes)
The engine of the
Golden Flyer. Later, this was replaced with a better, more powerful engine. 

1909 Gold Bug Flying.jpg (150941 bytes)
Curtiss test-flying the
Golden Flyer.

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The Wright Story/Showing the World/Wrights File Patent Suit Against Curtiss

Part of a biography of the Wright Brothers
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