Their Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements

Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life

By: Ethelene Dyer Jones

Saturday, March 13, 2010

'Apparatus for Navigating the Air' Micajah Clark Dyer

My January 4, 2004 column for “Through Mountain Mists” told of Micajah Clark Dyer and his remarkable flying machine that predated the Wright Brothers’ flight at Kitty Hawk, NC by several years. I thought that column would wrap up what I know of legend and fact about this Choestoe, Union County, Georgia inventor who lived from July 23, 1822 through January 26, 1891.

However, a remarkable development has occurred to add new light on Mr. Dyer’s invention and to authenticate what had only been passed down by word of mouth from generation to generation about the nineteenth century genius who watched birds fly and mused (to quote a line from a popular song), “Why, then oh why can’t I?”

Straightaway I have these to thank for discovering the registered patent in the U. S. Patent and Trademark Office and allowing me access to a copy. First, Jimmy Powell, cartoonist of note, went on the Google search engine, typing “Micajah Dyer Patent.” He followed the links to the U. S. Patent office. Jimmy is tied to Micajah Clark Dyer by marriage. His wife, Roxanne Dyer Powell, is the daughter of Wayne Dyer who goes directly back to her great, great, great grandfather Micajah Clark through Johnny, Samuel, Jasper Washington, first born of Micajah Clark Dyer. Then Jimmy Powell told a great, great granddaughter of Clark Dyer, Sylvia Dyer Turnage, who herself went online, and after some difficulty found and paid the cost for a printable copy. This was the long-missing link to prove that Micajah Clark Dyer did, indeed, get his machine far enough along to secure a patent on it. I thank them also for giving me permission to write another column about the inventor and his patent.

And speaking of patents, several of us who have written about his flying machine have noted that the patent application was evidently lost because there seemed to be no documents in Dyer’s papers to show that he received a patent. It was believed by family members that the patent was lost in transit between Choestoe and Washington, DC.

The fact that it was not lost, and that proof of the patent came into the hands of his descendants 130 years later are wonderful authentications of this man’s outstanding work. In fact, September is a good month to be writing about the title he gave to his patent, “Apparatus for Navigating the Air,” for the patent was granted on September 1, 1874, 130 years ago this month. His descendants are elated to learn that drawings of the “apparatus” were a part of the patent, together with extensive written descriptions of the lettered and numbered parts of the drawings.

Usually a model of the machine for which the inventor was applying for a patent accompanied the drawings and the official application. So far, the model has not been discovered at the patent office, but it may have been burned in the fire that devastated parts of the building in Washington in the early twentieth century.

Witnesses at Choestoe to Micajah Dyer’s illustrated and written document were Francis M. Swain (a neighbor) and M. C. Dyer, Jr. (the “other” Micajah Clark Dyer who, to distinguish the two, signed Jr. after his name. He was an uncle to the inventor Micajah Clark Dyer, but they were reared as brothers by Elisha Dyer, Jr., grandfather of Micajah). The document was dated February 16, 1874. It was filed in the patent office on June 10, 1874, and was approved there on September 1, 1874. Official signatures on the front of the document were D. G. Stuart and Leo Van Kiswick, evidently of the patent office. Micajah Dyer’s signature is affixed as inventor. The name of the attorney for the inventor is somewhat difficult to decipher: was he P. Harney or P. Hanney?

The beginning of the written description leads one to believe that there could have been prior applications; certainly prior attempts at an “Apparatus for Navigating the Air.” His opening statement reads:

Be it known that I, Micajah Dyer, of Blairsville, in the county of Union and State of Georgia, have invented certain new and useful Improvements in Apparatus for Navigating the Air; and I do declare the following to be a full, clear and exact description of the invention, such as will enable others skilled in the art to which it pertains to make and use it, reference being had to the accompanying drawings, which form part of this specification
In the written account are minute details giving specifications for building the frame, the wings, the large balloon, the rotating paddle wheels, shafts, cranks, connecting rods—no part seems to have been omitted from his description of the apparatus which he so painstakingly thought through, drew and, from testimony of several who saw it, built in his workshop. The description is far too technical and long to include in this account.

No date is given for the “trial run” Micajah Clark Dyer gave his ‘Apparatus for Navigating the Air” on the runway he built to launch it on his property at Choestoe underneath the shadow of Rattlesnake Mountain. The fact that he did so is not a part of the patent but by word passed from generation to generation by people of integrity and honesty.

His great, great granddaughter, Sylvia Dyer Turnage, said: “People said he continued to work on perfecting the machine until his death on January 26, 1891 at age 68. Since the patent we’ve found was registered on September 1, 1874, I believe he had a later and more advanced design in those 17 years.”

I have not authenticated this with another great, great grandson of the inventor, Larry Dyer, but word has it that he is constructing a replica of Micajah Clark Dyer’s machine. Larry, if you read this, and if, indeed you are working on reproducing the “Apparatus for Navigating the Air,” please make a big day of its launch in the field near Rattlesnake Mountain and invite us all to the event. You and we owe this debt of gratitude to a genius of the mountains, one Micajah Clark Dyer.

c2004 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published September 16, 2004 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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