Scientific American, v 6 (ns) no 3, p 41, 18 January 1862
Revival at the Patent Office
Our Washington correspondent writes us that the Patent Office is rejoicing in a marked increase of business. The number of applications for patents filed during the month of December, exceeded those of November by more than one hundred. People are beginning to wake up to the fact that now is the time, while business is dull, and leisure time plenty, to apply their minds and search for choice treasures in the abundant realms of science and art.
[Remainder omitted here.]
Death of Samuel Colt, the Inventor
Another prominent man has departed from among the living. Col. Samuel Colt, inventor of the revolving fire arms, died on the 10th inst., after a few day's illness, at his native place, Hartford, Connecticut. He was one of New England's most energetic men. From being a poor boy with a very moderate education he carved his way upward to wealth and renown. He was born in Hartford on the 19th of July, 1814, and was therefore only 47 years of age at his decease. It has been stated that he was wild and unruly in youth, and that when he was fourteen years of age he ran away from school and shipped as a sailor boy on a vessel bound to Calcutta in the East Indies. One voyage cured him of a desire for a "life on the ocean wave." On his return from Calcutta he served a brief apprenticeship, and learned the art of dyeing, in a factory at Ware, Mass., where he acquired considerable knowledge of practical chemistry. When he left this situation, he assumed the title of Dr. Colt, and traveled through the United States and Canada, giving lectures on chemistry in the various cities and villages. Becoming tired of this wandering profession, and having acquired a considerable amount of money by his lectures, he settled down to commence the active life of an inventor and manufacturer. The first thing which he did to this end was to complete a working model of his revolving pistol, the idea of which was first suggested to his mind while on his voyage to the Indies. The next step in his career (and a most wise one) was to take out patents, not only in America, but in France, England, and some other European kingdoms. This was in 1835, when he had completed his twenty first year, at which time he also succeeded in organizing a company with a capital of $300,000, for the purpose of carrying on the manufacture of his revolvers at Paterson, N.J. This turned out to be an unsuccessful undertaking, as the company suspended in 1842. But, although Col. Colt was discouraged, he was not dismayed. He waited patiently for the hour of success; and at last it arrived, in 1847, during the war with Mexico. Gen. Taylor had obtained and used a revolver pistol during the war with the Indians in Florida, and, knowing its value, he sent Captain Walker, of the Texas Rangers to New York to obtain a supply of pistols for the officers in his command. Not a single revolver, however, could then be obtained. Upon application to Col. Colt, he undertook a contract to supply 1,000 pistols for the army, and hired a machine shop, temporarily, at Whitneyville, Conn., to execute his order, which he finished with satisfaction to the government. From this time forth the career of Col. Colt was one of business prosperity. Orders flowed in upon him thick and fast, and he finally purchased a tract of land at Hartford, erected an armory, and commenced manufacturing revolvers upon an extensive scale. The land, buildings and machinery of his armory at Hartford cost, from first to last, about $1,000,000. The fame of this armory has become world-wide, as much on account of the superior machines employed to fabricate the different parts of revolvers, as from the character of the arms themselves. Like most manufacturers who have achieved success, Col. Colt set out with the wise determination to employ the best talent, and use the best machinery that could be devised, for facilitating and perfecting the various operations connected with his peculiar manufactures.
In 1851, he visited the World's Fair, and for the first time learned that firearms having rotary breech chambers were about two centuries old. One of these, made in the reign of Charles I, was in the United Service Museum, but it did not possess the improved device for rotating the chamber and operating the hammer by pulling the trigger. At the request of several distinguished persons, Col. Colt prepared a paper on revolving firearms, which was read before the United Service Institution, in which he explained the operations of the old revolvers, and pointed out the superiority of his own. This lecture was well received, and it led to the revolver becoming a favorite with the officers of the British Army. In the wars at the Cape in South Africa, in the Crimea, and in India, every offer engaged carried a revolver. There is now a large manufactory of such pistols in London, and another at Tula, in Russia. Colt's revolvers are of world-wide reputation. Perhaps there is not an officer in any army in Europe, and not one in America, who does not carry one of these destructive implements of war.
Col. Colt did not confine himself to one subject. He had a prolific mind, and as far back as 1843 he made experiments in New York with submarine infernal machines; and, with a galvanic batter situated in the Merchants' Exchange, Wall street, he succeeded in blowing up a sunken bulk down in the Bay. The submarine cable used on the occasion was a metal wire covered with cotton and wax, encased in a lead tube.
All the parts of the revolver firearms, likewise, balls, cartridges, molds and other accessories are manufactured at Colt's armory by special machines, invented for the purpose, and secured by many patents. The facilities for making pistols are so excellent that about 60,000 were made annually before the war commenced, but during the past year this number was more than doubled. Many of the machines used were invented by Col. Colt; others by able mechanics in his employment. It is to his credit that, with increasing wealth, his solicitude for the welfare of his operatives also increased. A public hall, a library, courses of lectures, and a series of concerts were maintained for his workmen.
The immediate cause of his death is supposed to have been an excess of mental labor arising from the demands made upon him to execute orders for the war, together with other pressing cares connected with the distracted condition of the country. He has gone where "the weary are at rest;" but his name connects with the fame of his revolving firearms will go down to other generations.
Test of an Invention
The special correspondent of the Tribune states that a patriotic inventor recently entered the office of Secretary Stanton, and proposed to sell the Government a patent armor, when the following dialogue ensued:
SECRETARY -- Has this been examined by a Board of officers?
PATRIOT -- No.
SECRETARY -- Then I propose to test it myself. Put it on, and I will have you shot at.
PATRIOT -- Some part not protected might be hit.
SECRETARY -- No danger of that, sir; get Colonel Berdan to shoot you; Colonel never misses, sir.
PATRIOT -- nonplused -- I don't consider that a fair test.
SECRETARY -- I do; and I don't think much of a man who declines a test that he is willing to subject my soldiers to. No, sir. You can't sell patent safety contrivances to this Department; but if you will bring an invention here which will push our armies on to the rebel forces, I will buy it. Good morning, sir.
The condition of affairs at the Patent Office is most satisfactory. The number of applicants for patents is daily increasing, and the examiners act upon cases so quickly now that it encourages some inventors to apply for patents who formerly neglected to do so, owing to the tardiness of the officials in deciding upon applications.
Renewed Activity Among Inventors
Business at the Patent Office is gradually resuming its wonted activity. For the past year firearms, projectiles, camp equipage and other articles pertaining to warfare have absorbed the attention of inventors generally, and, as our columns have borne testimony from week to week, some very valuable and ingenious inventions have been produced and patented, and now perform an important part in the suppression of our rebellion.
We have noticed latterly that many of our inventors are again devoting their ingenuity in the line of peaceful inventions, such as improvements in the steam engine, and in agricultural and domestic improvements of various kinds, while there is seemingly no diminution in the line of warlike inventions. The result of thus enlarging the bounds of inventors has greatly increased the business of the Patent Office, and, as our weekly list of claims bear evidence, this department of our government is at present flourishing.
Operations of the Confederate Patent Office
The Richmond Dispatch of the 11th Feb. says:
We have a copy of the report of Rufus R. Rhodes, Esq., Commissioner of Patents, giving a history of the operations of the office under his control, and showing its condition on the 1st of January, 1862, from which we make up the following brief summary; Number of applications for patents during the past year, 304; caveats, 110; patents issued, 57; United States patents and assignments thereof recorded, 112; amount of fees received, $9,000.90; amount of expenditures, $6,188.28; excess of receipts over expenditures, $2,812.62. The patents issued were distributed among the several States thus: To citizens of Virginia, 15; Georgia, 9; Alabama, 7; Louisiana, 6: North Carolina, 5; South Carolina, 4; Mississippi, 4; Tennessee, 3;, Arkansas, 2; Florida, 1; Texas, 1. Eighteen of the patents that have been allowed cover improvements in firearms, or other destructive implements of war, and with the view of showing that some of them have striking merit; the Commissioner points to the fact that they have been adopted by the Government for use against the enemy, after trial, in preference to inventions of a similar character, which originating in foreign countries, have received there the slightest approval of scientific and military men. A considerable proportion of the mechanical improvements for which patents are sought relate to agricultural implements. It is also noted, as an illustration of the inventive genius of the South, called into action by a desire to aid the common cause, that a village schoolmaster in the State of Arkansas, has received a patent for an instrument for measuring distances without the use of logarithms or other difficult process of calculation, which, if it but fulfill the expectations of the inventor, is likely to be of immediate practical value in the adjustment of artillery to different ranges, whether in fixed batteries or in service in the field. The Commissioner is informed that the instrument is soon to be tested with guns at Nashville, and there are strong grounds for believing it will prove a complete success.
The excess of receipts over expenditures sufficiently demonstrates that the office is most prosperous in its financial department, and that it is entirely self-sustaining. The report makes various suggestions concerning the administration of the office, as well as some changes in the Patent laws, which, we presume, will receive the early attention of Congress.
It appears from the above summary of Commissioner Rhodes's report of the doings of the Confederate Patent Office, for the past year, that but 304 applications were made during the whole year, which is rather a poor exhibit when the fact is taken into consideration that many of the cases were mere re-applications for patents, which were previously granted to Southern inventors by the United States government.
The Proposed Tax on Patented Articles
We have received a pamphlet, recently published by H. Howson, of Philadelphia, which contains comments on the following inquiry, "Is it a prudent measure to impose a heavier tax on patented than unpatented articles?" This interrogation is answered in the negative, and the author gives his reasons why such a tax should not be imposed. This pamphlet has been called out by the following clause in the National Tax Bill: "Provided, That all articles manufactured as aforesaid, and not otherwise provided for or charged with duty in this act, which are entitled to the privileges and immunities of patents under the laws of the United States, shall pay and be subject in lieu of 3 per cent ad valorem, as aforesaid, to a duty of 5 per cent ad valorem.
The principal objection that we can urge against taxing patented articles is the tendency which it may have to prevent the adoption of many improvements in manufacturing operations, and thus not only defeat the objects contemplated by the law, but work positive injury to the progressive industry and inventive talent of our country. The discriminating tax upon patented articles appears to be unwise, and we trust that this subject will receive the calm and careful consideration of Congress.
We have hitherto refrained from discussing the tax bill, although many of its features come within our legitimate province for comment. One reasons for this is, that we have really become disgusted with the efforts made by a vast number of merchants, manufacturers and others to get the goods and articles connected with their business exempt from the tax bill. It is well known that the expenses of this dreadful civil war are very great, and must be paid by the people. Every citizen should be willing to share the burden of this tax. All true patriots are willing to suffer for the welfare of the country in its hour of peril. As a people we have but little experience in heavy direct taxation, such as that which prevails in the empires and kingdoms of the old world, and our legislators may make mistakes, but we must be taxed heavily for several years to come, and the great question is, "How shall the taxes be imposed with the least injury to the greatest number?" It has been the ruling policy in England for the past twenty years to lay direct taxes upon as few articles as possible, and thus obviate the employment of a large number of tax collectors, because a horde of such characters swallow up a great portion of the taxes, and they exert a demoralizing influence upon the community.
Mr. Howson states that the tax upon patented articles will operate very injuriously upon those who have patents for designs, but he relates that the stove manufacturers of Albany and Troy have come to a resolution as a mode of obviating the payment of this tax should the above clause in the tax bill pass. Their design patents are obtained for the purpose of protecting their patterns, not the stoves; therefore he says, "They will abandon their patents, and erase the word patent from their stoves." By doing this they will save $40,000 per annum and be able to compete on equal terms with those manufacturers who have not patents. The question is certainly an intricate one, but we can see no good reasons why the manufacturer of patent goods should be charged two per cent more taxes than the manufacturer who makes unpatented goods with patented machinery.
Manufacturers and patentees throughout the country who feel an interest in the subject ought to loose no time in communicating their views to their members of Congress.
Patent Law Amendments
The new patent law which went into force on March 2, 1861, although admirable in many respects, was, in others, somewhat crude; and we are therefore glad to see that efforts are being made to remedy the imperfection.
A bill for this purpose has lately been passed in the House of Representatives.
We will briefly state the nature of some of the defects in the present law, coupled with the proposed changes, as gathered from a meager telegraphic report of the bill, received just as we go to press:
1. The new law created within the Patent Office a sort of independent tribunal, called the "Examiners-in-Chief," for the review and amendment of the decisions of the primary examiners. The Commissioner of Patents, although rightfully and legally the head of the department, has no control over the decisions of the Examiners-in-Chief, and cannot hear any appeal in person, unless a fee of $20 is first paid to him; nor can an appeal be taken from the Patent Office to the District Court without first going through with the expense, formality, delays, and "red-tapeism" of two prior appeals, to the Examiners-in-Chief and also to the Commissioner.
The proposed amendment gives to applicants the right to take an appeal from the Patent Office to the District Court as soon as the case has been rejected a second time by the primary examiner. The formalities and expenses of the two intermediate appeals are thus saved. This is certainly a change for the better. We also infer, from the nature of the bill, as telegraphed, that appeals from the decisions of the primary examiners are to be taken to the Commissioner in person without any expense to the applicant,t and that the Examiners-in-Chief will act as advisory board to assist the Commissioner in deciding those appeals. We think that this will also prove to be a good change. As the law stands, there is a liability to conflict in the decisions of the various branches of the Office, when there ought to be the most entire unanimity.
2. Under the existing law, an applicant may wait two years after it has been decided to grant his patent, before paying the last installment of the fees, and the Letters Patent will date from the time of such payment. But under the new bill, although the applicant will be allowed to wait two years if he wishes, still his patent must be dated back to a period not less than six months subsequent to the time when it was decided or passed for issue. This is also a good improvement.
3. The law now requires that when an application is rejected, the applicant shall go through the absurd form of swearing a second time that "verily he believes himself to be the original and first inventor," etc. There is no possible need of this formality; and it is a source of much delay and annoyance to applicants, especially to those who live at a distance. We are frequently compelled to send and procure these worthless pieces of paper, ycleped renewed oaths, from clients who reside in California, Europe and other quarters of the world. Our readers will readily see that much time is thus lost. We are glad that it is proposed to do away with this vexatious requirement.