Meet the Mysterious Genius Who Patented the UFO

Amer­i­can inven­tors nev­er met a phe­nom­e­non — nat­ur­al, man­made, or oth­er­wise — they couldn’t try to patent. From impos­si­ble tech­nolo­gies to pos­si­ble evi­dence of aliens vis­it­ing plan­et Earth, everything’s fair game if you can sell the idea. After high­ly-pub­li­cized UFO sight­ings in Wash­ing­ton State and Roswell, New Mex­i­co, for exam­ple, patents for fly­ing saucers began pour­ing into gov­ern­ment offices. “As soon as there was a pop­u­lar ‘spark,’” writes Ernie Smith at Atlas Obscu­ra, “the saucer was every­where.” It received its own clas­si­fi­ca­tion in the U.S. Patent Office, with the index­ing code B64C 39/001, for “fly­ing vehi­cles char­ac­ter­ized by sus­tain­ment with­out aero­dy­nam­ic lift, often fly­ing disks hav­ing a UFO-shape.”

Google Patents lists “around 192 items in this spe­cif­ic clas­si­fi­ca­tion,” with surges in appli­ca­tions between 1953–56, 1965–71, and  an “unusu­al­ly dra­mat­ic surge… between 2001 and 2004.” Make of that what you will. The sto­ry of the UFO gets both stranger and more mun­dane when we learn that Alexan­der Weygers, the very first per­son to file a patent for such a fly­ing vehi­cle, invent­ed it decades before UFO-mania and patent­ed it in 1945. He was not an Amer­i­can inven­tor but the Indone­sian-born son of a Dutch sug­ar plan­ta­tion fam­i­ly. He learned black­smithing on the farm, received an edu­ca­tion in Hol­land in mechan­i­cal engi­neer­ing and naval archi­tec­ture, and honed his mechan­i­cal skills while tak­ing long sea voy­ages alone.

In 1926, Weygers and his wife Jaco­ba Hut­ter moved to Seat­tle, Ash­lee Vance writes at Bloomberg Busi­ness­week, “where he pur­sued a career as a marine engi­neer and ship archi­tect and began ink­ing draw­ings of the Dis­copter” — the fly­ing-saucer-like vehi­cle he would patent after work­ing for many years as a painter and sculp­tor, mourn­ing the death of his wife, who died in child­birth in 1928. By the time Weygers was ready to revive the Dis­copter, the time was ripe, it seems, for a wave of tech­no­log­i­cal con­ver­gent evo­lu­tion — or a tech­no­log­i­cal theft. Per­haps, as Weygers’ claimed, UFOs real­ly were Army test planes: test pilots fly­ing some­thing based on the inventor’s design — which was not a UFO, but an attempt at a bet­ter heli­copter.

Sight­ings of strange objects in the sky did not begin in 1947. “Tales of mys­te­ri­ous fly­ing objects date to medieval times,” Vance writes, “and oth­er inven­tors and artists had pro­duced images of disk-shaped crafts. Hen­ri Coan­da, a Roman­ian inven­tor, even built a fly­ing saucer in the 1930s that looked sim­i­lar to what we now think of as the clas­sic craft from out­er space. His­to­ri­ans sus­pect that the designs of Coan­da and Weygers, float­ing around in the pub­lic sphere, com­bined with the post­war inter­est in sci-fi tech­nol­o­gy to cre­ate an atmos­phere that gave rise to a sud­den influx of UFO sight­ings.” In the 1950s, NASA and the U.S. Navy even began test­ing ver­ti­cal take­off vehi­cles that looked sus­pi­cious­ly like the patent­ed Dis­copter.

Weygers was livid and “con­vinced his designs had been stolen.” The press even picked up the sto­ry. In 1950 the San Fran­cis­co Chron­i­cle ran an arti­cle head­lined “Carmel Val­ley Artist Patent­ed Fly­ing Saucer Five Years Ago: ‘Dis­copter’ May Be What Peo­ple Have Seen Late­ly.” Although Weygers nev­er built a Dis­copter him­self, the arti­cle goes on to note that “the inven­tion became the pro­to­type for all disk-shaped ver­ti­cal take-off air­craft since built by the U.S. armed forces and pri­vate indus­try, both here and abroad.” Just how many such vehi­cles have been con­struct­ed, and have actu­al­ly been air-wor­thy, is impos­si­ble to say.

Smith sur­veys many of the patents for fly­ing saucers filed over the past 75 years by both indi­vid­u­als and large com­pa­nies. In the lat­ter cat­e­go­ry, we have com­pa­nies like Air­bus and star­tups cre­at­ed by Google co-founder Lar­ry Page cur­rent­ly work­ing on fly­ing saucer-like designs. The his­to­ry of such vehi­cles may not pro­vide suf­fi­cient evi­dence to dis­prove UFO sight­ings, but it may one day lead to the tech­nol­o­gy for fly­ing cars we thought would already have arrived this far into the space age. For that we have to thank, though he may nev­er get the cred­it, the mod­ern Renais­sance artist and inven­tor Alexan­der Weygers.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

What Do Aliens Look Like? Oxford Astro­bi­ol­o­gists Draw a Pic­ture, Based on Dar­win­ian The­o­ries of Evo­lu­tion

The CIA Has Declas­si­fied 2,780 Pages of UFO-Relat­ed Doc­u­ments, and They’re Now Free to Down­load

Carl Jung’s Fas­ci­nat­ing 1957 Let­ter on UFOs

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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