September 17, 2020

Like a Phoenix (Digitally) Arising from the Ashes: Newly Digitized 1837-1847 U.S. Patents

The United States National Archives and Records Administration recently digitized many U.S. patents issued from 1791 through 1836, the originals of which were destroyed when the U.S. Patent Office caught on fire in December of 1836. The paper versions were reconstructed from the inventors’ records in 1847.  The most recent batch was digitized and made available on the National Archives’ internet site this past August.

Many of these old patents are works of art!  Some more interesting and artistic examples are shown below. The colors and landscape features are not something seen in modern patents. The full collections can be accessed 

From 1790 until 1880, inventors were required to submit patent models of the inventions to the U.S. Patent Office along with their written patent applications. These patent models were typically miniaturized and smaller than twelve square inches. They were often well-crafted and some had many moving components demonstrating the operation of the invention. More than 100,000 of these patent models were also destroyed in the Patent Office fires of 1836 and 1877. In the early twentieth century, the Patent Office gave approximately 10,000 remaining patent models to the Smithsonian Institution museum and sold off the rest. 

The above is a patent model for a barrel counting Register obtained by the author. This model is metal and associated with U.S. Patent No. 203,707 which issued to Clarke on May 14, 1878.

Banajah Williams’ Patent Drawing for a Canal Boat

Benjamin E. Freymuth’s Patent Drawing for an Alarm Bell

Charles I. Fisher’s Patent Drawing for a Still

Moses Isaacs and John Willbanks’ Patent Drawing for an Inclined Power Wheel

John C. Ely’s Patent Drawing for a Screw Dock

Jesse Delano’s Patent Drawing for a Safe

Mellen Battle’s Patent Drawing for an American Wheel-right Labor Saving Machine

James P. Parke’s Patent Drawing for An Alarm Bell for Fire Engines

Clinton Curtis’ Patent Drawing for a Water Loom

Have questions about patents? Check out our FAQ Patents page.