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Fascinating facts about the creation of the U.S. Patent System by the United States Congress in 1790. U.S. PATENT SYSTEM
On April 10, 1790, President George Washington signed the bill which laid the foundations of the modern American patent system. The U.S. patent system was unique; for the first time in history the intrinsic right of an inventor to profit from his invention is recognized by law. Previously, privileges granted to an inventor were dependent upon the prerogative of a monarch or upon a special act of a legislature.
"Congress shall have the promote the progress of science and useful arts by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries." - U.S. Constitution  Article 1. Section 8.  Young or old, most inventors are thrilled when see their name on a patent issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office in Arlington, Virginia, near Washington, D.C.
In 1790, one Samuel Hopkins of Pittsford, Vermont, was granted the first U.S. patent, for an improvement in the making of potash (a substance derived from the ash of burned plant life and used to make soap and other items).

The reviewer of this patent was Thomas Jefferson, the Secretary of State and himself an inventor, whose work area was filled with gadgets he had devised (perhaps he examined the patent on the famous portable desk that he invented in 1775). Jefferson next passed the document to the Secretary of War for his review and then obtained signatures from the Attorney General and, finally, from President Washington.

So began something bigger than the Founding Fathers had ever dreamed. During that first year, Jefferson received two more patent applications, both of which were granted after due deliberation and signature-collecting. But sometime during 1791, as he scrutinized models and sorted through stacks of designs, Jefferson realized that patent-examining was too much for busy Cabinet members. For as little as four dollars, American inventors could seek patent protection for their inventions under provisions of the Act of 1790. And seek it they did.

Jefferson found himself overwhelmed by an outpouring of American inventiveness. By 1793, patent examining duties had been reassigned to a State Department clerk, until the Patent Office was formed in 1802. Today there are more than five million patents that have been issued to Americans and other nationals by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Prior to the Patent Act of July 4, 1836, patents were issued by name and date rather than number. The Patent Office had already issued nearly 10,000 patents, when a fire destroyed many of the original records in December of 1836. Using private files, the office was able to restore 2,845 patents. The restored records were issued a number beginning with an "X" and called the "X-Patents." Thus the first patent ever issued was actually designated patent X1. The patents that could not be restored were cancelled.


Book Resources on the subject of Patents.  from The Great Idea Finder
Historic Patents of the Unired States  from The Great Idea Finder
First Patent Issued  pot ash improvement  from The Great Idea Finder
Patent Information including history and purpose. 
from The Great Idea Finder

Prolific Inventors based upon the number of Patents issued   from The Great Idea Finder
Rumor Has It everything has been invented.  from The Great Idea Finder
Web Resources dedicated to Patents.  from The Great Idea Finder

The Patent Guide: A Friendly Guide to Protecting and Profiting from Patents
by Carl W. Battle / Paperback - 192 pages (November 1997) / Watson-Guptill Pubns

Geared toward the businessperson and individual inventor, this overview takes the reader from inception to patent drafting, follows an application through the Patent Office, shows how to select legal representation if needed, and concludes with information on infringement procedures, foreign protection options, and licensing and marketing an invention.
Patent Searching Made Easy: How to Do Patent Searching on the Internet and in the Library
by David Hitchcock / Paperback - 208 pages 2nd edition (April 2000) / Nolo Press

This book should be a valuable aid to most inventors and an excellent starting point for first-time inventors.
A History of the Early Patent Offices : The Patent Office Pony
( This title is out of print. )
by Kenneth W. Dobyns / Hardcover - 249 pages Reprint edition (1997) /Sergeant Kirkland's
Abraham Lincoln stated that the patent system added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius. He was the only U.S. President who was a patentee (no.6,649, for inflatable bellows that helped to buoy a boat over shoals). These and many other facts can be found in this book, which relates a detailed history of the U.S. Patent System from 1790 to 1900.
Those Inventive Americans ( This title is out of print. )
by National Geographic Society / Hardcover - 231 pages (1971) / NGS-Special Pub. Division

United States Patent & Trademark Office
As expected, the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) offers a plethora of resources to the inventing community.
The Patent Office Pony; A History of the Early Patent Office
The Patent Office Pony, formerly available from Sergeant Kirkland's Press, original text available online

U.S. Patent & Trademark Office Patent Search
Federal data base of Patent information. A freely searchable database of information from US patents issued since the first in 1790 up to and including the previous month.
New, improved and expanded database! Effective 1 October 2000, the database now offers all US patents issued since 1790, in the form of searchable patent numbers and current US classifications hyperlinked to full-page images of each page of each patent.
Patent Searching Tutorial
Tutorial on how to select an appropriate patent Web site for research, with specific help on searching the IBM Patent Server via patent number.
Digital Reference
Listing of full text references provided on this website concerning Patent Office History

"The first thing you want in a new country, is a patent office." - Mark Twain, 1889


  • Thomas Jefferson was the first Patent Examiner.
  • In 1790, the cost to obtain a patent was between $4 and $5.
  • The first U.S. patent was granted on July 31, 1790, to Samuel Hopkins of Pittsford, Vt., for an improvement in "the making of Pot ash and Pearl ash by a new Apparatus and Process."
  • Mary Kies of Killingly, Conn., was the first women to obtain a patent. In 1809 she received a patent for a way to weave "straw with silk or thread."
  • Chester Carlson was a patent agent who tired of having to make multiple copies of patent applications using the only duplication method available at the time: carbon paper. In 1959 he came up with a new copying system and took it to IBM for evaluation. The "experts" at IBM determined potential sales to be only 5,000 units because people wouldn’t want to use a bulky machine when they had carbon paper. Carlson’s invention was the xerography process, the company founded on the system is Xerox.
  • Abraham Lincoln, congressman from Illinois, received Patent No. 6,469 for "A Device for Buoying Vessels over Shoals." The idea of the invention was that if a ship ran aground in shallow waters, the bellows would be filled with air, and the vessel, thus buoyed, would float clear. The model Lincoln whittled can be seen at the Smithsonian's National Museum in Washington.
  • Mark Twain (Samuel L. Clemens) received Patent No. 121,992 for "An Improvement in Adjustable and Detachable Straps for Garments." He later received two more patents: one for a self-pasting scrapbook and one for a game to help players remember important historical dates.
Reference Sources in BOLD Type This page revised March, 2005.

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