User:Econterms/Tracking historical invention: the airplane and its industry


(http prefix removed temporarily to avoid search-engines finding the experimental site yet. --Econterms (talk))

At we have a wiki database containing records about aeronautics and aviation globally up to 1916, during the period when the idea of flying machines transitioned from a dream and a hobby into a new science and a startup industry. Each record includes some structured data and some wikitext. The data include:

  • 14,000 patent records with information on aeronautics-related patent applications in any country up to 1918
  • Hundreds of aeronautical clubs, a place for the social infrastructure of inventing the airplane in the early phase and then a place to try airplanes, afterward
  • Hundreds of new firms in the aircraft business, almost all founded in or after 1908, from 1908-1916
  • A hundred exhibitions, conferences, and prizes for aeronautics and aviation
  • many hundreds of persons who were inventors or authors in the aeronautical and aviation fields
  • Many hundreds of letters between aeronautical experimenters
  • Not yet loaded: over 30,000 bibliographic records of publications about aeronautics from the Bibliography of Aeronautics (1910, 1916, 1921)

These records display reports, e.g. an inventor page can automatically list patents associated with the inventor.

Our research links these records from multiple sources to construct individual and organizational histories and will eventually yield networks of co-authorships and partnerships. One challenge is that we do not have a unified definitive source of purely biographical information, such as birth date or full name. We put these diverse kinds of records on a public wiki so that specialists who are not part of the initial project can improve the underlying data and the matching.

Historical problem -- identification and disambiguation:

Small historical questions: Are these inventors the same person or different people? Is the idea the same idea patented in two countries, or different ideas?

These things are necessary for a high quality count of the activity.

Big questions: Which institutions supported the advances of aeronautics and aviation? (Clubs, libraries, firms, military spending, universities, patent offices . . . )

To track the micro questions and answers, which are needed for counts that address the big questions, I needed a layer of annotation on top of patents. So I launched, a wiki with Cargo.

So we have a record on each patent by Mr Thomas:


Heavy links across these elements; see Octave Chanute's invention:


and from there, to Octave Chanute:

And patents are assigned by specialists to technological categories which potentially have rich information:


Categories link to one another hierarchically. And they were assigned later. The early categories are relevant for history and they are vaguer.


Among them: exhibitions and conferences like this one, EMWCon

Also firms and clubs:

  • <== an important one

There is a prospect of having a large scale wiki to address all patents, anywhere, before 1900 so as to have a database of them that addresses these issues across technologies. This would help historical research. I am in conversations with WIPO researchers about that.

Response and followup to this presentation[edit]

Audience was attentive. Comments were favorable. I disable hyperlinks above so as to avoid indexing by google yet for this project. To follow up: