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Interesting Patent Events

First U.S. Patent: U.S. Patent No. 1X "Method of producing pot ash and pearl ash" issued to Samuel Hopkins on July 31, 1790. To download a copy in pdf, click here.

First U.S. Patent issued to a woman: U.S. Patent No. 1041X "Weaving Straw with Silk or Thread," issued to Mary Kies on May 5, 1809. It is believed that numerous women before and after the grant of this patent were involved in inventive activities, and likely filed patent applications in the names of their husbands. (Image is not available; it was destroyed in the 1836 fire.)

First known U.S. Patent issued to an African American: U.S. Patent No. 3306X "Dry Scouring of Clothes," issued to Jennings on March 3, 1821. (Image is not available; it was destroyed in the 1836 fire.)

Abe Lincoln's patentOnly U.S. Patent ever awarded to a U.S. president: U.S. Patent No. 6,469 "Manner of Bouying Vessels," issued to Abraham Lincoln on May 22, 1849.

First U.S. Patent issued after the 1836 Patent Act, first originally numbered patent: U.S. Patent No. 1 "Traction Wheels," issued on July 13, 1836 to John Ruggles, a U.S. senator from Maine and the author of the 1836 Patent Act which brought back the examination process. To download a copy in pdf, click here.

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Famous Quotes
"The patent system added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius."
- Abraham Lincoln

"The advancement of the arts, from year to year, taxes our credulity, and seems to presage the arrival of that period when human improvement must end." - Henry Ellsworth, Commissioner of Patents, 1843.
Ellsworth has been frequently misquoted. No Commissioner of the Patent Office ever stated that everything which can be invented has already been patented.

".. the very first official thing I did, in my administration - - and it was on the very first day of it, too - was to start a patent office; for I knew that a country without a patent office and good patent laws was just a crab, and couldn't travel any way but sideways or backways".  -Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

"The man with a new idea is a crank until the idea succeeds."  -Twain

"The invention all admired, and each, how he to be the inventor missed; so easy it seemed once found, which yet unfound most would have thought impossible."  -John Milton (1608 - 1674) English poet, essayist

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Official Letters Patent: 1850 - present

The official certificates for patents granted by the Patent Office have changed over the years.

1873 1878 1896 1929 A bunch of 'em, from 1850 to the present
1850 - present
click on any photo for a larger view

Photos courtesy of the Patent Office Historical Collection, Jim Davie

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The X-Patents

No, this is not an investigation by Mulder and Scully. But the X-Patents do actually exist. Between 1790 (when the first Patent Laws were enacted) and 1836, there were about 10,000 (9,957 is the most accurate count known) patents granted, starting with the very first one issued to Samuel Hopkins on July 31, 1790 for a method of producing pot ash and pearl ash (fertilizers). These patents were not originally numbered, and are sometimes referred to as the "name and date" patents. A disastrous 1836 patent office fire destroyed them all. After a new Patent Act went into effect in 1836, patents were numbered starting with U.S. Patent No. 1. The previous destroyed patents of 1790-1836 were reconstructed as well as possible and retroactively numbered with "X" numbers. Therefore, U.S. Patent No. 1 is not the first U.S. Patent. U.S. Patent Nos. 1X through 9,957X precede it.

The X-Patents are not well known, although close to 2,000 of them have been entered into the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office databases. For this reason, as well as the fact that on the order of 600-800 patents are withdrawn from issue each year and their patent numbers not used, the latest U.S. patent number does not accurately reflect the number of patents which have been granted.

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The Fractional X-Patents

The original X-Patents were numbered with an "X" suffix. However, a number of patents were inadvertently omitted from the first official list sent to Congress. In order to remedy this, early patents from 1790 to 1836 which were omitted were inserted in their proper chronological order by using fractional numbers. These Fractional X-Patents are not scanned into the U.S.Patent and Trademark Office databases, however, they can still be found in the paper files of the Patent Office.

Here are some restored drawings from Fractional X Patents:

click on one
Photos courtesy of the Patent Office Historical Collection, Jim Davie.

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Modern Fractional Patents

Even after the current numbering series began in 1836 with U.S. Patent No. 1, some patents have been squeezed into issue batches by using fractional numbers. A patent having a fractional number issued as recently as 1966!

Click on a patent number to view that fractional patent

Photos courtesy of the Patent Office Historical Collection, Jim Davie
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The Patent Office Pony

The Patent Office Pony? In the early days of the Patent Office, the State Department kept a single pony for the use of the Patent Office. A messenger or clerk from the Patent Office would ride this pony to the State Department to receive the signatures of the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, and the President of the United States on issuing patents. In 1825, the Patent Office purchased its own pony and paid Robert Welsh Fenwick $10 per month for keeping the Patent Office pony. In 1826, the Patent Office purchased an iron gray horse at a cost of $70. The Patent Office pony was stolen in June of 1827. Mr. Fenwick was paid $2.50 for his efforts in attempting to recover the pony, and was later paid $5 for his expenses when he succeeded in recovering the pony from W. Maul, three months later. The phrase "riding the Patent Office pony" became a metaphor for working at the Patent Office. (Dobyns, Kenneth W., The Patent Office Pony, 1994.)

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Patent Models

Until 1880, models were required to be filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office when possible. However, since 1880, no model is required.

Click here to view this photograph of two early patent models at full size.(Photo is 697K!)

Under construction! More to come!

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Early Patent Drawings

Early patent drawings were created in color and were much more artistic than current patent drawings. Most of the earliest patent drawings from 1790 to 1836 were destroyed in the 1836 Patent Office Fire, however, many have been restored.
Abe Lincoln's patent: "Manner of Bouying Vessels"
click on any photo for a larger view
Photos courtesy of the Patent Office Historical Collection, Jim Davie.

Under construction!

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Patent Office History

1836 fire
1877 fire
North Hall after fire
click on any photo for a larger view

Photos courtesy of the Patent Office Historical Collection, Jim Davie.

Under construction!

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