|The 212th Anniversary of the First American Patent Act|
Modern patents originated in Europe where European sovereigns commonly awarded "letters patent" to favored inventors. These letters had their royal seal on the outside, with the writing open (or patent) for all to see. The first U.S. patent laws were enacted by Congress in 1790 as part of the Constitution. Before then, the King of England officially owned all the intellectual property created by the colonists. Prior to 1790, it was necessary for an inventor to make a special appeal to the governing body of the Colony or State to protect an invention. The first such patent on this continent was granted by the Masachusetts General Court to Samuel Winslow in 1641 for a novel method of making salt. George Washington signed the First United States Patent Grant on July 31, 1790, and the patent examiner was Thomas Jefferson. The first U.S. patent went to Samuel Hopkins of Pittsford, Vermont for a new method of making Potash, an industrial chemical used in making soap, glass, fertilizers and gunpowder. In 1790, the fee for a Patent was four dollars.
Click on any image below to get a larger view
In order to ensure that the invention would be understood by all parties concerned, drawings of inventions have generally been required from applicants for patents since the first patent statute was enacted in 1790. A total of 55 patents were issued betwen 1790 and 1793 and there were nearly 10,000 United States patents granted between July 31, 1790 and July 2, 1836. These patents were not numbered but were referenced only by name and date.
After the Patent Act of July 4, 1836, patents were numbered, and patent No. 1 was issued on July 13, 1836. The patent office went back and numbered the older patents, and an X suffix was used to distinguish them from the newer patents. The first patent ever issued became patent number 1X.
original X-patent dated 1832, signed by President Andrew Jackson
The Patent Office fire of December 15, 1836 destroyed all of the patent drawings to that date. About 2,845 patents were restored and reconstructed, but it is suspected that reconstruction artists may have reflected the drawing style of the 1840s rather than that of the originals.
The Patent Act of March 3, 1837, required applicants to submit two copies of drawings - one to be kept in the patent office and one to attach to the patent grant sent to the applicant. The requirement was dropped in 1870 when the Office began printing complete copies of patents as they were issued.
The Patent Office set no standards for patent drawings before 1870. Sizes ranged from a half sheet to large folio size drawings, with some drawings elaborately done with watercolors. By 1871, the patent office required all drawings to be black on white and of a specific size.
In 1842, Ornamental Designs were made patentable - now called design patents. In 1870, the Patent office was given jurisdiction of Trademarks. Approximately 105,000 patents had been issued to this date (1870). Patent number 1 million was issued in 1911. In 1930, plants were made patentable; on August 18, 1931, plant patent number 1 was issued to Henry Bosenberg for a "climbing rose." In 1935, patent number 2 million was issued. In 1936, design patent number 100,000 was issued. In 1961, patent number 3 million was issued. In 1975, patent number 4 million was issued and in 1991 patent number 5 million was issued.
Special thanks to Jim Davie for providing the images used in this feature and for additional historical information. When he is not busy working as a patent examiner, Jim devotes much of his free time to his passion -- researching the history of the patent system.
Next page > Original Patent Number One