Statue of Harry Toulmin, the Wright brothers patent attorney

Did you know that U.S. Patent No. 821,393 was for how an airplane flies?

On Main Street in downtown Springfield, Ohio, there’s an eight-foot-tall statue of Harry Toulmin, a patent attorney. Toulmin shaped the first successful patent for the Wright brothers.

Toulmin’s greatest contribution to the Wright brothers was how the patent should be crafted. The patent covered the control system of the 1902 glider involving the simultaneous use of wing-warping and rudder to perform a controlled turn and the ability to maintain roll stability. He crafted the documentation so it protected not only the design and construction of the flying machine, it protected how that machine controlled flight—pitch, roll, and yaw.

The Wright brothers are famous now for their self-made approach to designing and building their flying machines, from their 1900 kites to their first 1903 Wright Flyer. The brothers were not so famous for their self-made approach with the U.S. Patent process. They did not experience success filing and protecting their intellectual property.

On January 14, 1904, just weeks after their first successful fights in December, at the suggestion of a few close friends, Wilbur Wright wrote to Springfield patent attorney Harry Toulmin, asking for his advice and guidance in the patent application process. Eight days later, on January 22, Wilbur traveled to Springfield, met with Toulmin, who was hired that day.

Toulmin drew up the patent application that gave the Wrights sole claim not only to a flying machine, but to the only system devised for in-air control of a flying machine. By April 1904, the Wrights’ patent had been filed in the United States and in Europe covering Great Britain, France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Italy. U.S. Patent No. 821,393 was issued May 22, 1906.

Every plane you see today in the sky uses the same principles—pitch, roll, and yaw, to control flight, the principles patented by the Wright brothers—through their attorney, Harry Toulmin, of Springfield, Ohio.

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