Scientific American, v 61 (ns), no 20, p 310, 16 November 1889
Genesis and Progress of Invention
Invention began, says the Inventive Age, in the Garden of Eden, when the primal pair invented the fig leaf apron, and it has been in progress through all the hours that, since that day, have gone to join the cycles that elapsed before the creation of mankind. Every successive generation has found out something that its predecessor did not know. Not only the necessities of the race, but its unquenchable desire for extending the area of knowledge, and its natural aversion to hard work, have stimulated the inventive faculty. All that there is on this globe, except wild vegetation, wild animals, and wild men, naked and houseless as their quadrupedal companions, has come of invention. The history of invention, could it be written, would be a detailed story of mankind from Adam to the babe born today.
The grandest achievements of this godlike faculty are, however, of recent date, and they have come in such a magnificent procession, with results so marvelous, that a doubt exists in many minds as to the possibility of maintaining this pace through coming centuries. Ours is called "the age of invention," in contradiction from past ages, but the impression is abroad that, in ages yet to come, ours will stand out as preeminently the inventive age. Why? What reason can be assigned for the supposition that a hundred years from 1889 our descendants will not be as far ahead of us in science and its applications as we are superior in that respect to our ancestors of 1789?
It is our belief that, instead of having explored the inner temple of science, we have just entered the vestibule of the outer temple. Progress is a logical necessity. Every step points and impels to another step. We cannot believe the time will ever come when no more possibilities will be presented to the inquiring mind, when science will regard its work as finished, and the inventor will lay down the prod of exploration, feeling that his occupation is gone.
Patent Office Examiners
"Experts?" said a prominent official at the Patent Office recently. "Why, they are as thick as blackberries in the summer, and you can hardly enter a room in this building without meeting one or more. The work here is of such a technical character, embracing as it does the entire domain of inventive knowledge, that unless the men who decide upon the newness and practicability of the thousands of applications for patents, which they receive annually, did not thoroughly understand the state of the art, the court dockets would be crowded with the cases of litigious inventors."
Many of the examiners in the different divisions are men of deep learning. Especially is this true of the divisions where the class of applications are out of the usual run, and represent the greater inventions, such as the telephone and the recent advances in electric lighting. The experts who are called upon to pass upon the claims of Edison and others, in regard to new electrical devices, must of necessity be men who thoroughly understand the subject. With them it has been almost a life study, and there is no branch of the art that they are not thoroughly familiar with. They are constantly experimenting in the laboratory, investigating and demonstrating the practicability of the inventions which reach them, and possess a larger knowledge of that class of inventions than any persons living. It becomes a hobby with them, and, although the pay is small, the field for continuing their studies is so large that in their greed for scientific knowledge they sacrifice their pecuniary interests. Professor G.D. Seely, who is the examiner in electricity, knows more of the art, probably, than any many in the country. He has covered the field of electrical science thoroughly. His division is one of the most important in the office, and requires thorough expertness in dealing with the problems which it is called upon to decide.
At the head of the division of chemistry is Dr. Thomas Antisell. He is another expert in his particular line. Several years ago the office established a laboratory, provided with suitable chemical and physical apparatus, such as balances, batteries, filter pumps, microscopes, spectroscopes, platinum ware, gas assaying and melting and other furnaces to enable the examiners to conduct such experiments as they saw proper in passing upon the applications of inventors. Whenever it is necessary the office furnishes heat, power, light, electricity, and chemicals, and there is hardly a day but what some examiner is busy in the laboratory.
But the experts of this office are by no means confined to the divisions of electricity and chemistry. Every branch of science is treated of here, and the examiner must, of necessity, to be competent, be thoroughly familiar with their subjects.
The inventive faculties of the country seem to run in shoals, and just at present the subject of naval projectiles is receiving a great deal of attention at their hands. This requires that the man who passes upon their claims should know his business thoroughly, and he does.
Mr. P.B. Pierce, who has charge of the sewing machine division, is another man who can be considered an expert. He knows more about sewing machines than any man in the country, and has made the subject a life study.
And so it is throughout the office. Every examiner is an expert in his particular line, and some of their places would be exceedingly difficult to fill. The pay of these men is entirely disproportionate to the invaluable services they render. Every one of them could make a great deal more out of the office as an attorney, but they seldom leave. Why this is, nobody seems to know, unless it is that the work is congenial, and they are so wrapped up in it as to be wiling to sacrifice their other interests for the sake of the opportunity for scientific researches which their position so abundantly gives them.
-- Washington Post