How Far Do You Think Of Carrying On Aeronautical Work? - Tuesday, December 9, 1902
The History: Octave Chanute wrote Wilbur today and enclosed the letter he received from Samuel Langley, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, dated December 7, 1902. With financial support [funding, money] from the United States government and the Smithsonian Institution, Langley is developing his own airplane. Chanute has met with Charles Manley, Langley's chief assistant. Manley visited with Chanute while on a trip to visit his brother.
Langley would like to meet with the Wrights and discuss their control system. Chanute calls Langley's letter "cheeky" [bold, improper]. Although Chanute and Langley are friends, Chanute is concerned and questions Langley's motivation [reason]. [Would Langley learn information from the Wrights' successful tests and incorporate it into his own plane?]. Chanute asks Wilbur how he should reply to Langley's invitation.
Once again, Chanute urges Wilbur: "I think you had better patent your improvements." He then asks Wilbur: " How far do you think of carrying on aeronautical work?"
Charles M. Manley was a young engineer and would later pilot Langley's full sized airplane called the Aerodrome. Both attempts would be unsuccessful. The last trial would be on December 8, 1903, just 9 days before the Wrights' first successful flight on December 17, 1903 at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. Langley's plane with Manley on board would plunge into the cold icy waters on the Potomac in Washington, D.C. (Manley was unharmed.)
A patent is a legal document which allows an inventor the exclusive right to make, use or sell their invention. If the Wrights have a patent on their control system others will not be able to copy and use it without the Wrights' permission. This would protect all the hard work the Wrights invested and risked in developing their flying machine.
The Wrights' first successful flight will occur in one year and 8 days. Although they are just considering an engine for their flying machine, it is ironic that 100-years ago today, Octave Chanute asked the inventors of the airplane how far they intended on taking their flight experiments. Clearly, it was "all the way"!
Quotation from the book The Papers of Wilbur and Orville Wright, Volume 1 by M. McFarland.