I've excerpted quotes below, and the full text of the correspondence follows. This is a transcription of the letters on display at the US Air Force Museum in Dayton, OH. Thanks to Shirley Melton and Andrea Jain for help in transcribing this work.
On January 18, 1905, after more than 100 test flights, the Wright brothers write to the US government to offer their invention for practical use. (full text)
“The series of aeronautical experiments upon which we have been engaged for the past five years has ended in the production of a flying machine of a type fitted for practical use. ...
If the latter features are of interest to our Government, we shall be pleased to ... furnishing all the scientific and practical information we have accumulated in these years of experience, ... .”
In an internal memo, the Honorable R.M. Nevin writes to the Honorable William H. Taft, Secretary of the War Department, (full text)
“... and as I am satisfied they have at least succeeded in inventing a machine worthy of investigation, I would respectfully ask that this matter be referred to the proper officer and that he may grant them, at any rate, the privilege of demonstrating to him “
On January 24, 1905, Major General, G. L. Gillespie, wrote to the Honorable R.M. Nevin, (full text)
“It appears from the letter of Messrs. Wilbur and Orville Wright that their machine has not been brought to the stage of practical operation, ...”
Nine months later on 16 October 1905, Major General J .G. Bates wrote to the Wright brothers (full text)
“... the Board has found it necessary to decline to make allotments for the experimental development of devices for mechanical flight, and ... the device must have been brought to the stage of practical operation without expense to the United States.”
Finally, on 19 October 1905, the Wight brothers write back to the War department, (full text)
“We have no thought of asking financial assistance from the government. “
At its meeting of 24 Oct. 1905 the Board considered the Wright's letter of 19 October and recommended:
"That Messrs. Wright be informed that the Board does
not care to formulate any requirements for the performance of a flying machine
or to take any further action on the subject until a machine is produced which
by actual operation is shown to be able to produce horizontal flight and
to carry an operator."
Jan. 18, 1905 Letter To Washington
The numerous flights in straight lines, in circles, and over ``S'' shaped courses, in calm and in winds, have made it quite certain that flying has been brought to a point where it can be made of great practical use in various ways, one of which is that of scouting and carrying messages in time of war. If the latter features are of interest to our Government, we shall be pleased to take up the matter either on a basis of providing machines of agreed specification, at a contract price, or, of furnishing all the scientific and practical information we have accumulated in these years of experience, together with a license to use our patents; thus putting the Government in a position to operate on its own account.
If you can find it convenient to ascertain this is a subject of interest to our own Government, it would oblige us greatly, as early information on this point will aid us in making our plans for the future.
(Sgd. In ink) WILBUR and ORVILLE WRIGHT
(Initialed in ink) O. W.
Jan. 21, 1905 Inter Washington Memo
COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY
I do not know whether you, or the proper officer of the Government to whom this matter will be referred, will care to take it up or not, but as I am advised, they only want to present, without expense of any consequence to the Government, the result of their labors, and as I am satisfied they have at least succeeded in inventing a machine worthy of investigation, I would respectfully ask that this matter be referred to the proper officer and that he may grant them, at any rate, the privilege of demonstrating to him what they have and what they can do. I assume that the government is interested in the matter at least to that extent, providing its officers be convinced that there is something of value and something that would be of practicable use.
Will you kindly advise me, that I may let them know at the earliest opportunity.
Very truly yours,
(Sgd. In ink) R. M. Nevin
Jan. 24, 1905 Inter Washington Memo
It appears from the letter of Messrs. Wilbur and Orville Wright that their machine has not been brought to the stage of practical operation, but as soon as it shall have been perfected, the Board would be pleased to receive further representations from them in regard to it.
G. L. Gillespie,
Major General, General Staff,
President of the Board.
Oct. 16, 1905 Letter From Washington
Washington, D. C.
Before the question of making a contract with you for
the furnishing of a flying machine is considered it will be necessary for
you to furnish this Board with the approximate cost of the completed machine,
the date upon which it would be delivered, and with such drawings and descriptions
thereof as are necessary to enable its construction to be understood and a
definite conclusion as to its practicability to be arrived at. Upon the receipt
of this information, the matter will receive the careful consideration of
(Sgd.) J .G. Bates
Major general, General Staff,
President of the Board.
Oct. 19, 1905 Letter To Washington
WRIGHT CYCLE COMPANY
In order that we may submit a proposition conforming that we nearly as possible to the ideas of your Board, it is desirable that we be informed what conditions you would wish to lay down as to the performance of the machine in the official trials, prior to acceptance of the machine. We can not w.. fix a price, nor a time for delivery, till we have your idea of the qualifications necessary to such a machine. We ought also to know whether you would wish to reserve a monopoly on the use of the invention, or whether you would permit us to accept orders for similar machines from other governments, and give public exhibitions, etc.
Oct. 24, 1905 Letter From Washington
At its meeting of 24 Oct. 1905 the Board considered the Wright's
letter of 19 October and recommended: