Patent History Materials Index - Patent Materials from Scientific American, vol 14 old series (Sep 1858 - Jun 1859)

Scientific American, v 14 (os) no 3, p 21, 25 September 1858

What Next? -- Flying.

After the successful laying of the Atlantic Cable, some are beginning to inquire "Well, what new and wonderful invention shall we have next?" There are others again, who appear to have come to the conclusion that we have arrived at about the end of new invention. They express themselves somewhat as follows: -- "We have steamships bridging the seas, locomotives meeting the wants of rapid travel on land, and telegraphs completing all that has been lacking for communicating between distant places; therefore, we do not see what more can really be done."

These fogy individuals seem to conclude that we have reached a millennium of perfection in invention. The truth is, however, that past inventions but pave the way for new discoveries -- each new invention is but the ignition of another torch to illumine the path of progress. It is, no doubt, difficult to point out the field which presents the most inviting prospect for future investigation, but we have received a letter from a correspondent who asserts that the next thing which much be accomplished is flying. "Since the whales and porpoises have been astonished with the Ocean Cable," he declares, "we are now bound to astound the gulls and eagles." We certainly wish him success, and hope he will be enabled to accomplished his elevated object; but the history of the past does not promise much for the future success of human flying, even with the aid of wings, balloons, and all the helps of modern science.

Our correspondent proposes to build a large conical balloon, and propel it with wings, using steam power for this purpose. With such an aerial apparatus he intends to navigate the blue ethereal above, as safely as the frigate Niagara plows through the blue fluid below. The aerial ship devised by our correspondent, however, happens not to be new; a similar one was illustrated in our first volume. To others, as well as to himself, who may be indulging in such lofty visions, we must tell them that safe, practical and economical aerial navigation never can be rendered successful by application of known powers. This subject has engaged the attention of inventors for hundreds of years, and although many successful balloon experiments have been made, yet ballooning is not flying. The art of flying consists in moving with perfect freedom and command in the atmosphere. Will human beings ever be able to do this? Some enthusiastic inventors -- as many letters received by us testify -- believe it will yet be accomplished. If some new power a hundred times more compact that the steam engine were discovered, it might be so applied as to render flying probable. The reason why birds fly is not because of their feathers, as some suppose, as each feather is heaver than an equal bulk of air, but because birds have a very concentrated power in their muscles, by which they are enabled to sustain themselves in the atmosphere, by opposing a counter force to that of gravity.

It would be a most pleasant consideration, were we able to snap our fingers at railroad conductors and steamboat captains in going upon a distant journey, just by taking wings, mounting and soaring away in a bee line for the place of our destination; but until some new and grand discovery is made of the character alluded to, it is vain to speculate. When it is taken into consideration that it requires about 2,240 cubic feet of gas used for a balloon to raise and sustain a man weighing 140 pounds, it is easy to conceive that with known means (steam power or any other), mankind are yet far below the possibility of flying, but unless men try they never will fly.


Scientific American, v 14 (os) no 17, p 54, 23 October 1858

The Patent Office Building

During the past two or three months, says the Washington Union, great changes have been taking place, both in this building itself and its contents. The north wing is steadily progressing, being now up to the third story, and built in a most substantial manner. The exterior wall on G street is of marble, while the rear one is granite. The west wing is occupied, in the first and second stories, by the clerks of the General Land Office; and there not being accommodations sufficient for them, the rooms heretofore occupied by the rejected models belonging to the Patent Office have been emptied of their contents, and are now being cleaned up and fitted for the use of the Land Office. Those rejected models have been carried up stairs and placed in the cases which were formerly filled with the curiosities brought home by the exploring expedition, etc. -- the latter having been removed to the Smithsonian Institution. But these cases are inadequate to contain this vast multitude of rejected models; and besides being filled to repletion, a large number are piled in heaps on top of the cases, and still the number increases. The inventive genius of our countrymen grows more and more prolific, and in spite of the large number of patents which are issued weekly, a great many applications are weekly rejected. The hall in the west wing is now in course of preparation to receive rejected models. There are nearly a hundred cases erected, or large size, and capable of holding many thousands of models, and this hall, which extends the whole length of the wing, will be exclusively devoted to the proper arrangement and exhibition of these models. While they were in the basement they could only be seen with great difficulty, as it was dark, and they were piled together indiscriminately, and the dampness of the place was also unfavorable to their preservation; but now they may be seen to better advantage, and an hour or two may be pleasantly and profitably spent in this manner. Among these models are patterns of all sorts of machinery: beehives of a great variety of shapes; churns, cider mills and cheese presses; rat traps, by which the Examiners were not to be caught; pistols, pumps and paddle wheels; stoves, steam boilers and steering apparatus of every description; improvements in household furniture and in coffins, in bridges, fences and gates, in steam engines and water filters. In one case may be seen all the varieties of lamps and lanterns that would seem capable of being devised by human ingenuity; and in another are galvanic batteries and magnetic telegraphs, calculating machines, an instrument for indicating the depth of water, a self-adjusting climatometer, and a self-adjusting quadrant. It is almost painful to think of the many weary hours of toil and sleepless nights of study to which this mass of inventions owed its parentage; and all for naught. They were weighed and found wanting; they would not stand the test, and were thrown among the rubbish in the basement of this building, to be at this late day brought to light and to furnish food for reflection to thinking men. Some of these models which we observed bore the date of 1838, having been in the office for twenty years, but the greater part have been collected within the last four or five years.

Among the other curiosities in this gallery is a case of Chinese models from Hong Kong, consisting of mills, water wheels, plows and harrows, and presented by Lieut. Gills, of the United States navy. There is an appropriateness in placing them here, for we do not believe a patent could be obtained for any of them, and they therefore belong among the rejected models.

Another case contains a town clock, made by the late Wm. Voss, of Washington. This is a beautiful piece of machinery; and can be placed upon any tower or building intended for such a purpose, and made to strike the hours or quarter hours (if desired) on a bell so as to be heard all over the city. The nature of the works will admit of from one to four dials, and will show the hour upon all of them. The price of this clock is eight hundred dollars. We have often heard the complaint that there is no town clock in Washington. Let this be said no longer, for there is one, and it is to be found among the rejected models. There it stands, mute and motionless, yet how suggestive. Another model, the first one which strikes the eye of the visitor on entering the hall, is that of the Washington monument. This also suggests a train of thought, which we will leave our readers to follow out.


Scientific American, v 14 (os) no 8, p 61, 30 October 1858

Reminiscences of Sewing Machine Inventors

We have often thought that reminiscences touching the mental operations and the rights and wrongs of inventors, if they could be brought under the graphic pen of a Charles Dickens, would form a most instructive and amusing volume. From an experience of more than thirteen years with the order of persons usually denominated "geniuses," many facts of an interesting nature suggest themselves to our minds. In the present instance, we venture to say a few words bearing only upon one class.

Elias Howe, Jr., of Cambridge, Mass., obtained a patent for the first practically useful sewing machine in 1846. For several years it was a source of annoyance and expense to him, with little or no pecuniary profit. Since that time many improvements have been patented, and the manufacturing of sewing machines is now one of the most extensive businesses in the United States, and thousands are sold annually. Elias Howe, Jr., once a poor inventor, with few friends, now receives, from the most prominent makers of sewing machines, a tribute that will make him, before the first term of his patent expires (1860), one of the wealthiest men in this country. We do not speak from any positive knowledge of the facts, but his present annual income cannot be calculated at less than $100,000; certain it is, that, in the course of a single month, he must have received from one establishment no less than $6,000, judging from the number of machines sold by that concern. On almost any pleasant day a portly man with flowing hair, white cravat, and broad brimmed Kossuth hat, may be seen on Broadway, dashing along behind a splendid pair of fancy horses, fit for the stud of an emperor, and with all the ease and independence of a millionaire. That man is Elias Howe, Jr., once the poor and humble inventor. We rejoice in the good fortune of our old friend, and can only say to him that he is entitled to all that he has received.

In the year 1849, there came into our office a spare-looking humble man, hailing from Pittsfield, Mass. After taking a cursory survey of the modest premises which we then tenanted, and feeling a degree of security that he could trust to our integrity and honor, he carefully untied a handkerchief, and brought out two models -- one a sewing machine, the other a rotary steam engine. He was a poor inventor, and had not the means to take patents for both of his daring projects; and upon our advice he gave us an order to proceed to secure his right on the sewing machine, which we accordingly did. Subsequently his Letters Patent issued, and he unsuspectingly entrusted his affairs in the hands of unprincipled men, and he was cheated. Nothing daunted, he set his prolific genius at work, and as the result, A.B. Wilson soon produced an almost perfect sewing machine, which, under the good business management of Nathaniel Wheeler (we wish every inventor could secure such an efficient and honest cooperator) is now a triumph. Should any of our readers chance to visit the neat village of Watertown, Conn., they will find that the occupant of one of its most beautiful mansions is no less a personage than our once poor client with his cotton handkerchief full of inventions.

In the same year (1849), a young machinist, with a small capital but an honorable ambition, opened a small shop at No. 83 Gold street, within a stone's throw of our office. With a considerable stock of ingenuity, and the advantage of ready hands, he applied himself to render the sewing machine available to various arts, and did much toward this result; but, possibly acting under some prejudice that patents were humbugs, and inventors ditto, he did not secure his rights, as he should have done; and not until he saw his improvements subsequently taken advantage of by others, did he awake to the value and importance of securing his improvements to himself. He let the "liquid chance go by;" as it is only within twelve or eighteen months that A. Bartholf (who is now an extensive manufacturer of sewing machines at No. 489 Broadway) has placed himself in a position to reap a suitable reward for his genius and industry. If he had been anything else than a most persevering and industrious man, he would have been stranded high and dry by the other energetic pioneers in the race.

Had we time and space enough to enter upon this subject in a more extended detail, we could furnish interesting items in the life of Isaac M. Singer, a veteran inventor and manufacturer of sewing machines; also of Grover & Baker, and others engaged in the same branch of manufacturing. Enough has been said to show what has been accomplished, in less than ten years, in the improvement of sewing machines. The same remarks will apply to other branches in which inventive talent has been employed and richly remunerated. During this time we have not been mere idle lookers-on. We have had a professional hand in this business, beginning as far back as the time when Howe (through the aid of a Mr. Thomas, who was then an extensive corset maker in London) undertook to introduce his first humble sewing machine into England. The original drawings in this case were made by our Chief Examiner; and since that time, hundreds of applications for patents on sewing machines have passed through the Scientific American Patent Agency.


Scientific American, v 14 (os) no 18, p 145, 8 January 1859

The Death of Henry L. Ellsworth

This melancholy event took place on the 27th ult., at the residence of the deceased in Fair Haven, Ct.

He was the twin brother to the Hon. Wm. W. Ellsworth, former Governor, and now Judge of the Supreme Court of Errors of Connecticut, and the two were the youngest children of the Hon. Oliver Ellsworth, of Windsor, Ct., second Chief Justice of the United States. After graduating from Yale in 1810, and studying law with Judge Gould at Litchfield, he married the only daughter of the Hon. Elizor Goodrich, of New Haven, and settled at Windsor on the estate of his father, in the practice of his profession and the pursuits of agriculture. He was appointed by Gen. Jackson, as President Commissioner among the Indian tribes to the south and west of Arkansas. While employed in this service he made extensive circuits towards the Rocky Mountains. In one of these he was accompanied by Mr. Washington Irving, who thus obtained the materials of his remarkable work upon our western prairies. At the end of two years, Mr. Ellsworth was called to Washington, and placed at the head of the Patent Office.

At the expiration of about ten years, Mr. Ellsworth resigned his connection with the Patent Office, and established himself at Lafayette, Indiana, in the purchase and settlement of United States land.

About two years ago, Mr. Ellsworth found his constitution sinking. He therefore determined to remove to his native State. He recently visited Lafayette for the adjustment of his affairs, and, in less than a week after his return, was seized with an attack which ended his life, in the sixty-eighth year of his age.

For many years we have enjoyed the personal friendship of Mr. Ellsworth, and he seldom, if ever, came to this city without making us a sociable visit. He was also a strong friend of the inventor, and ever evinced a deep interest in the progress of legislation for the benefit of this very useful class of our citizens. He was also a warm supporter of the Scientific American, and we are indebted to him for repeated evidences of his confidence in our teachings, professions, and practices. In the death of Mr. Ellsworth, we feel that we have lost a valued friend, and our country has lost one of its most useful citizens. We shall miss his cheerful face, and intelligent conversation. Peace to his ashes!


Scientific American, v 14 (os) no 28, p 229, 19 March 1859

Commissioner Holt appointed Postmaster General

One of the advantages of a government -- right and true in theory -- is, that it is perpetual, and no hiatus can exist in the administration of its affairs, for as one official is removed, in the natural rotation of office, or by the hand of the Grim Conqueror, there should be always ready a qualified and able successor. Such is now the case with us. The office of Postmaster General having been rendered vacant by the death of the Hon. A.V. Brown, the President has appointed the Hon. Joseph Holt, so well known to our readers as Commissioner of Patents, to take this important place in his Cabinet. Whatever difference of opinion may be entertained of the Federal Head, through the bitterness of party strife, this appointment will be endorsed by every one who is at all acquainted with the new incumbent.

Mr. Holt is a gentleman possessed of as much common sense, capability of administrative work, and clear and unprejudiced judgment, as any one to be found within the charmed circle around the White House. He is a son-in-law of ex-Postmaster General Wickliffe, and brother-in-law of Senator Yulee, of Florida, and is a sound lawyer, an elegant writer, and all his reports and decisions have been specimens of good diction, and have breathed forth an interest in the true and progressive welfare of our country, which fact is both pleasing and unique.

In his official position, we have had frequent intercourse with him, and have ever found him alive to the duties of his office; eminently just and rigid in the discharge of his duty, and yet ever showing a genuine sympathy for the inventor, so that, while his decisions might disappoint the expectation of the claimants, the grace exhibited in the discharge of this duty would conquer vexation, and disarm prejudice.

In common with all who have had business with the Patent Office, we regret this change, and no class of our citizens will regret it more than the great body of inventors. These regrets, however, are overcome in a measure by the fact of Mr. Holt's appointment to a more distinguished position under the government. If, as Postmaster General, Mr. Holt is as diligent and single minded, and exercises his judgment with the same fidelity, as in his former position, he will prove a most valuable member of the Cabinet. Mr. Holt is a thoroughly honest and capable man, and if the Contractors get the best of Uncle Sam in his department, they must be exceedingly industrious and persevering.


Scientific American, v 14 (os) no 28, p 229, 19 March 1859

While the Homestead bill was recently under discussion in the House of Representatives, Mr. Leiter, of Ohio, delivered a speech in its favor, which has been characterized by some of our cotemporaries as one of great ability. We decidedly differ in opinion with those who have regarded his effort with any degree of admiration. Arguments founded on false statistics, however plausible they may appear, are like houses built upon quicksands -- unreliable and dangerous. Such we conceive the rhetorical structure which Mr. Leiter built up for this bill; not that we oppose its objects, but the ridiculous arguments advanced to promote them. These arguments are founded on the erroneous idea that machinery has been exceedingly injurious to the laboring and mechanical classes, and that its extension has reduced them from comparative independence and comfort to penury and suffering. The orators says: -- "within the last fifty years steam power and labor-saving machinery have wrought a mighty revolution in industry, and rendered almost superfluous manual labor in the great department of mechanical industry. In the British Islands the work done by machine power is computed by Lord Brougham to be equal to the labor of eight hundred millions of men; while it has made the nation the wealthiest and most powerful on the globe, it, with monopoly of the soil, has reduced the mass of her people to abject misery."

The achievements of machinery, as set forth, are rather under than over-rated, but the concluding part of the paragraph is not entitled to the least confidence. Instead of machinery having tended to reduce the mass of the people of the British Isles to misery, it has elevated and improved their condition, and at the present moment their circumstances are far superior, in every respect, to what they were at any other period of their history. Instead of reducing them to abject misery, it has elevated the laboring classes from the condition of being "yoked with the brutes and fettered to the soil," to the position of intelligent beings, and made them a great power in the commonwealth. That man is profoundly ignorant of the history of England who teaches such doctrines as the above. The complaints urged against machinery are like those of a moping owl complaining to the moon. Watt, Arkwright and other inventors of machinery have done more for the people of England than all the wisdom of Bacon or the discoveries of Newton; and yet, according to Mr. Leiter, the steam engine, the spinning jenny, the power loom, and the printing press have been curses not blessings to the laboring classes. Such sentiments as those expressed above might well be expected from a denizen of the forests of Ecuador, not from a citizen of this free and enlightened republic. But he does not stop in his charges against machinery as applied to England; he carries the imputation home to our own country. He also says: -- "The effect of machinery upon the prosperity of the industrial classes is beginning to be felt in this country as well as in Europe. Until the steam engine took the place of human muscles in the production of wealth, scarcity and want had not been known in this country. But how is it now? Whenever the operations of manufacture cease, the laborers are thrown out of employment, and wide-spread misery follows.

Never were statements uttered in or out of Congress more untrustworthy than these. It is distinctly stated that machinery, and the steam engine especially, has caused scarcity and want in our country. When it is recollected that the machinery has wonderfully increased the products of labor, and that it neither eats human food nor wears clothing, it appears to be one of the most stupid conceptions possible, to charge it with causing scarcity and want. As every implement above the teeth and nails is a machine, the above extracts furnish a brilliant panegyric upon the logic and intelligence of some Congressional representatives. In order to bring about the good old times when Adam delved and Eve span and to prevent scarcity and want, we must go back upon human muscle, cease manufacturing operations, and throw all our steam engines into the ocean! Such are the derivable conclusions from the above; they are far from being creditable to any American citizen.


Scientific American, v 14 (os) no 29, p 237, 26 March 1859

Tribute of Respect to the New Postmaster General

At a meeting of the employees of the United States Patent Office held on Saturday the 12th inst., preparatory to calling upon the Hon. Joseph Holt, and formally taking leave of him upon his vacation of the office of Commissioner of Patents, Samuel T. Shugert was called to the chair, and De Witt C. Lawrence was appointed secretary. Resolutions complimentary to Mr. Holt were passed unanimously, and on the motion of Dr. Antisel, Henry Baldwin, Esq., Senior Examiner in the Office, was deputed to address the Commissioner in their behalf, which he did in a chaste and sensible speech. Mr. Holt replied in the following strains of touching eloquence:

[Speech omitted in this copy. KWD]


Scientific American, v 14 (os), p 257-259, 16 April 1859

The Rise, Progress and Influence of the "Scientific American"

We spread before our readers, in this issue, several illustrations, accompanied by somewhat voluminous details of the rise and progress of the Scientific American, and also of the American and European Patent Agency Offices connected therewith. We think there are few of our readers, whatever may be their occupations or tastes, who will not find in these details anything of interest and profit. There has been a question in the minds some as to the propriety of connecting these two departments of business in one establishment. This doubt will be dispelled at once, when it is considered that they very naturally unite themselves. In thus combining two professions, we were but imitating the practice of English and other European scientific journalists -- for example, in England, Newtons' London Journal of Arts and Sciences, the Repository of Patents, the Mechanic's Magazine, the Artizan, etc.; and in Paris, L'Invention (by the late lamented M. Gardissal), Le Genie Industrial etc., all of which are under the care of editors who are well known to be the ablest and most reliable patent solicitors in Europe. If the scientific journalist is industrious, and at all competent to the discharge of his duties, his researches into the various fields of scientific literature and of mechanical art and invention are necessarily more extended than those of any other person; and hence his greater familiarity with "things new and old" in these branches.

In narrating the history of the Scientific American, we shall be compelled to refer more or less to ourselves, but we shall endeavor to do so in a manner not offensive to good taste. Our time, our talents, our energies, and our capital, for fourteen years past, have all been unceasingly devoted to the building-up of an establishment which has become almost, as it were, one of the fixed institutions of the country. We will not attempt to conceal the fact that we have an honest pride in contemplating the results of our labors -- a pride which is equivalent to that which the patriot has towards his country, the father in the well-being of his children, and the right-minced ruler in the success of all good schemes for the prosperity and improvement of the people placed under his care.

Our reflections naturally revert to Volume 1 of the Scientific American. On the 28th day of August, 1845, there issued from a little "7 by 9" office, No. 11 Spruce street (within a stone's throw of where we are now sitting), the first number of what was destined to be an important feature in American literature, namely, a popular and enduring scientific journal. It was a folio sheet, 20 inches by 15, and in making its modest bow to the public, its first column contained a scientific rhyme running thus:

"Attraction is a curious power
That none can understand:
Its influence is everywhere --
In water, air, and land
It keeps the earth compact and tight
As though strong bolts were through it,
And, what is more mysterious yet,
It binds us mortals to it!"

Rufus Porter was the founder and first editor of the Scientific American; he was a man of eccentricity of genius, and by no means destitute of qualities of originality, as the contents of the first volume of the journal will abundantly testify. Most of the illustrations of peculiarly unique inventions, and the theological discussions that appeared weekly under the pictorial heading of "The Ark" prove that he was not only a man of science but also a christian philosopher. But he was evidently designed for another epoch, and he retired long ago from the editorial chair; and when last we heard from him, he was engaged in the great and laudable enterprise of getting up a joint stock company to build an aerial chariot according to a plan illustrated in Volume 1, No. 4, having the shape of a revoloidal spindle or, in other words, a winged Winan's steamer.

[Included here is an illustration, labeled "View of the 'Scientific American' Office, New York"]

The engraving on the first page of Vol. 1, illustrates an improved railroad car which, although well executed for that time, now looks rather coarse by the side of those which now adorn our pages. A picture and description of the Great Britain steamship (the Leviathan of her day) and many interesting articles and items fill up the remainder of the paper. The editor, in his first public address, sets forth in plain terms the intention and purpose of the journal. He says: -- "We have made arrangements to furnish the intelligent and liberal working men, and those who delight in those beauties of nature which consist in laws of mechanics, chemistry and other branches of Natural Philosophy, with a paper that will instruct while it diverts or amuses them, and which retain its excellence and value when political and ordinary newspapers are thrown aside and forgotten. In conducting this publication we shall endeavor to avoid all expressions of sentiment, on any sectional, sectarian or political party subject; but we shall exercise a full share of independence in the occasional exposure of ignorance and knavery." This was the standard the present editors were pledged to follow; and we think that one grand element of our present success is owing to the fact that throughout thirteen years and a half, we have earnestly striven to preserve that pledge inviolate. "Come good report or ill report," our course has been onward; telling plainly our honest convictions and giving our reasons therefor; none being more ready to confess their errors than ourselves whenever convinced that we were in the wrong. When the paper arrived at the age of forty-five weeks (the office having just previously been removed to No. 128 Fulton street) it passed entirely under the control of its present editors; and the name of "Munn & Company" first appeared in the imprint. At this time it had less than three hundred paying subscribers. Thus during the whole of the first year its progress had been very slow; but at the close of the volume, the skies seemed to brighten somewhat, and we felt encouraged to enlarge the paper and to commence a new volume in its present "quarto" form. The illustrations improved in excellence; and as we grew better acquainted with the tastes of our readers, we were better able to supply them with a scientific dish more palatable and digestible. Before the close of the second volume the inventive genius of the country begun rather to concentrate its confidence in our humble office; so much so that, on page 369 of that volume, we published a very modest announcement that we would undertake the preparation of specifications and drawings and otherwise attend to the prosecuting of applications for Letters Patent. This notice laid the foundation of the Scientific American Patent Agency, which now has branch offices in New York, Washington, London, Paris and Brussels. In reference to this particular department, its success will be made to more fully appear hereafter, as well as in the article entitled "Stubborn Facts," which will be found in another column.

We consider it pertinent to inquire, here, what has been the influence of the Scientific American upon the arts and sciences? The fact cannot be ignored that it has done essential service in these interesting fields of exploration -- these exhaustless mines for human research; for, from its origin up the present moment, its career has been marked by a most rapid development of our national resources, a vast increase in the number and value of inventions, and a wonderful advance in mechanics, chemistry, and all branches of industry. Apart from presenting any facts in support of such statements, it is self-evident that a periodical devoted to the dissemination of information on peculiar subjects must excite the minds of its readers and stimulate them to perform actions which they never otherwise would have contemplated. That such has been the influence of the Scientific American is beyond all question; many new and useful inventions, and which have become permanently important to our country, were nourished into existence by its teachings. Take for example, sewing machines, which have now become articles of both public and domestic usefulness throughout our whole wide-spread dominion, and they are now being manufactured and sold at the rate of at least 1500 weekly; and yet, in 1846, there was not a single one in operation anywhere. In that year, Mr. Elias Howe, Jr., obtained the patent for his combined needles and shuttle machine; but the public were generally oblivious to that fact until the subsequent year, when one of the editors of this paper hunted up the invention, described it, and directed public attention to the extended field opened for its application. This was the means of awakening a general interest in regard to its importance (for Mr. Howe did little to bring it into notice), and the consequence was, the minds of inventors were excited with the subject, and the latent genius of Wilson, Singer and others was thus stimulated and developed to the splendid results which have since been accomplished. We could particularize other important inventions which have had a history nearly similar, but space requires us to be more general.

When the Scientific American was first issued, agricultural machinery was in a very low condition, and very unfavorable comparisons were made between the paucity of inventions of this class and those for manufacturing purposes. We directed special attention to this fact, and result has been a most wonderful development in this department. A thousand reaping machines are sole today for one in 1848, while hand planters and several other entirely new machines have come into general use. No less than 561 patents were issued last years for agricultural implements, and for the number and superiority of such improvements we now surpass all other nations. It is also a pleasing fact to state that many large fortunes have been made out of this branch of invention; the field being still inviting and prospectively increasing in importance.

The electrotyping art -- so beautiful, and now so extensively practiced -- was almost unknown to our people twelve years ago. It was first brought prominently to their notice by a series of illustrated articles on the subject, from the pen of one of the editors of this paper, published in Vol. III.

Gutta percha, now so much used for tubing, clothing, covering wires, and a hundred other useful applications, was not employed for any purpose whatever in the United States in 1846. We early became acquainted with its qualities, and published such information as, we believe, has much contributed to its general introduction.

In the year in which the Scientific American had its birth, there were only 900 miles of telegraph line in operation in our whole continent; now there are more than 30,000. We published much original information regarding the principles and instruments for communicating intelligence by this wonderful system, and were its early advocates.

In the same year there were only 4,870 miles of railroad in operation; now there are 28,238. Nearly all the most valuable inventions for railroads have been illustrated in our columns, and a number of reforms now adopted for their better management were first discussed in this journal.

Several very great improvements have been made in hydraulic meters; and the compact, economical turbine wheel has superseded, in hundreds of instances, the old and expensive "overshot." Our series of illustrated articles on this branch of practical science, in Vol. VI, has tended greatly to produce this result.

Again, in the year 1846 we had only two small steamers in connection with our ocean service; now we have over forty, each of which is of such magnitude that it could almost stow away any of the older ones within its coal bunker. The Scientific American has long asserted that there exists a vast field for investigations and improvements; our steam marine is but in its infancy, and there are loud demands for more economical apparatus for supplying the motive power.

In 1846 there were only 619 patents issued; in 1858 there were 3,710 -- a six-fold increase -- a result which we know is due, in a great measure, to the topics discussed by us, and the hints we have thrown out touching the wants of the community.

Time would fail us if we attempted to crowd our experience of the past fourteen years into that amount of space to which we must confine ourselves; suffice it to say that there is not a branch of mechanics, engineering, or the useful arts, but has been improved and benefited by the influence of the Scientific American ever since it was first published. It has breathed upon the "still waters" of many minds, and they have been stirred to impart utilitarian influences; it has awakened emotions which otherwise would have been slumbering still; and these have gone forth carrying improvement after improvement into every corner of our land.

In reference to the present influence and circulation of the Scientific American, it is almost needless for us to say that it is marked and extensive. Its progress in popular favor has been steady and solid, unlike that of many journals of a light literary caste, which have come and gone like a comet. A distinguished European savant, in speaking of our paper, characterized it as "a magnificent illustrated panorama of the industry of both hemispheres;" and in his own journal he further said: "Savants, manufacturers, inventors, and all persons who, from any title, are interested in the progress of the arts and sciences, have engaged to contribute to it. This publication is a mirror wherein is reflected all the attempts, all the endeavors, all the experiences, all the results of modern inventions. The savant can here find the steps which genius makes each day in the paths of science. The manufacturer draws thence perfections of art, which must modify constantly the conditions of labor. The inventor there beholds clearly the discoveries already made, and is spared from useless researches and labors. The merchant, too, finds there precious documents; the public, in short, learns each week what is new in the universe of arts and industry. England has many similar publications, but no journal in the three nations has obtained or merits the immense success which has made the fortune and glory of Scientific American.

Our Patent Agency Department

One of the most interesting and attractive institutions in connection with our government is the United States Patent Office, located at Washington; it is the storehouse and monument of the ingenuity of our countrymen, and no intelligent person would think of visiting that city without making at least one visit to that department.

The Constitution of the United States makes special provision for the protection of the rights of inventors and authors; and under its fostering care there has grown out our present almost inimitable patent law system. It is needless, here, to describe that system as it is more fully elaborated elsewhere. Suffice it to say that, in consequence of the rigid system of examination preliminary to the issue of a patent, the conflicting interests constantly coming under the supervision of the Office, the paramount value of many of the inventions for which patents are sought, and the great necessity that the papers of the claimant should be carefully prepared, there has grown up a profession, as it were, the members of which are usually designated "patent agents" or "patent solicitors," and who have become as much a necessity for the proper transaction of business with the Patent Office as the lawyers are in our courts of justice. We are sorry also to add that in this, as in the legal profession, there are "shysters" and "suckers," who, vulture-like, watch for an inventor, mainly for the purpose of despoiling him of his honest rights and oft-times scanty means. These persons have no professional reputation, and only eke out a livelihood by a low craftiness which, to the eyes of strangers, has in some measure thrown discredit upon honorable men engaged in the business, of which there are many.

We will here state, in reference to ourselves, what no one will presume to deny, that since our first connection with the Scientific American, in 1846, we have examined into the novelty of more inventions than any other patent agents now living in this country. During all this time, we have never engaged in speculating in patent rights, but have made it a rule to discharge instantly from our employment anyone who might engage in such speculations; and we are able to state that we have never had any necessity to enforce this rule, although some of our employees have been with us since we started in business. It is a difficult thing for persons unacquainted with our methods, to understand how we are able to transact so large a business, and with such great success. Rapidity, executive tact, and close application to business, are often mysteries which slow people cannot understand. Alexander T. Stewart, the most successful merchant in the United States, if not in the whole world, and doing a business of ten millions a year, is a mystery to all his competitors. Go and look at him in his mammoth mercantile palace on Broadway. You will see an unassuming, delicately-framed man, by no means exhibiting marked evidence of ability; but converse with him a little while about his business, and you will find that no department escapes the scrutiny of his eye.

We will here present a brief account of the manner in which the immense business of this office is transacted. Probably not more than one in every fifty of our patrons ever personally visits our establishment. We often regret that we cannot have a more intimate personal acquaintance with them, as this would enable us to explain the peculiar modus operandi of our business, and our clients could also more fully elucidate their ideas in reference to their various improvements, with much more distinctness and intelligibility than can be done by letter; but as a visit is out of the question in most cases, we have prepared and distribute (gratuitously) circulars of instruction how to proceed to procure American and European patents, a careful perusal of which will enable inventors to understand what is required of them in order to present their case in a proper manner. These circulars save us a vast deal of writing, as they fully answer all the leading inquiries that usually present themselves to inventors desiring protection under our patent laws. As will be inferred from the remarks above, our business is mostly transacted through the mails and express. The average number of letters daily received by this office is at least one hundred, and in the busiest seasons of the year -- as, for instance, the beginning of a new volume of the Scientific American -- the number has reached as high as three hundred per day. The first business of the morning, on the part of the proprietors, is to open and carefully examine the correspondence. A division is made of this correspondence, according to its character; that portion pertaining to the business of the journal -- such as subscriptions, complaints, changes of address, requests for back numbers, etc. -- is referred to the Superintendent of the Subscription and Mailing Department, whose duty it is to faithfully observe and, if possible, fulfill every request. There are many little business details in this department which it is unnecessary to specify, but which are important adjuncts to the machinery of the office. Contributions intended for publication, and questions presented for answers in our column headed "Notes and Queries," are all carefully examined and properly disposed of by an accomplished editorial corps. Letters accompanied by sketches and descriptions of alleged new inventions are properly classified and then submitted to whoever in the office is most competent by long experience to decide upon their patentability; his opinion is carefully written down on a slip of paper, which is attached to the letter, and this is then handed to one of the principals, whose business it is to scrupulously supervise these opinions and then hand them over to the Corresponding Clerk, who writes a full and proper answer to the correspondent. These replies are examined and signed by one of the firm. Thus it will be seen that it is almost impossible for a single letter to be passed by unnoticed. Correspondents sometimes do not consider that their letters to us or our replies to them might have been miscarried; therefore, once in a while, we get a letter of complaint for not answering some writer with as much promptitude as we had done others. We seldom, however, encounter a correspondent whose impatience cannot be appeased by a proper explanation; and it is a most significant fact that, out of the thousands of letters annually addressed to us, we rarely receive an uncourteous one. This of itself assures us that, in our professional intercourse with our patrons, satisfaction is almost invariably given. Like all other publishers we sometimes receive letters from unknown sources, which are usually thrown into our waste basket without examination, because, as a general rule, they are regarded as wholly unreliable and unworthy of attention.

Models of new inventions are usually transmitted to us through the medium of the various expresses of our country, and are delivered to us with a dispatch and care highly creditable to the efficiency of this system of carrying. It is seldom that a model is miscarried, and we cannot remember of a single instance in which we lost a model beyond recovery. The expressmen usually begin to deliver their boxes of models about 9 o'clock A.M.; the models are put into a private room and there opened by a trusty porter, who immediately brings them to the desks of the principals, who speedily attend to their examination and disposal; and in the proper arrangement and preparation of applications for patents on the models entrusted to their care, they are assisted by twelve examiners and draughtsmen of approved ability and tried integrity.

All funds remitted to us on account of applications for patents are immediately placed to the credit of the inventor to whose case the money applies; and in every issue of our journal, we acknowledge these weekly receipts by the initials of the sender. This enables our correspondents to quickly detect any detention in the proper reception of their remittances, which are usually not acknowledged by letter until the model reaches us, when the case is considered completed in our hands.

After the drawings and specification of a case are prepared, they are at once sent to the applicant, for his signature and oath, accompanied by printed directions for their proper execution. On their return to us, they are at once forwarded to the Patent Office; registers of these transactions being kept, to avoid the possibility of mistakes. Many minute details are involved in the careful registration of these applications, all of which are under the supervision of one of the principals.

One very important department of our establishment is that devoted to the procuration of foreign patents; this receives the especial attention of one of the firm, who, from long experience and personal observation in Europe, is qualified to advise on all points relating to this branch of the business. It is believed that over two-thirds of all the patents obtained abroad by American inventors are secured through our European agencies. Correspondence and conversations in the office are conducted by the attaches of this department in the French, German and Spanish languages; so that no foreigner need feel embarrassed in consulting or writing to us, even though he may not be familiar with English.

Stubborn Facts

In another part of this number we have entered quite extensively into a description of the rise and progress of the Scientific American, and have also made an exposition of our Patent Agency Department, and of the complete system by which this branch is managed. As corroborations of our statement in reference to the unparalleled success which has hitherto attended this division of our professional labors, we here present a few gratifying extracts from letters recently received by us from some of our clients, followed by the testimonials of the two ablest and most popular Commissioners of the Patent Office: .... [client letter omitted here KWD]

We present with much pleasure the following flattering testimonial from the Hon. Judge Mason, who, while Commissioner of Patents, made his mark upon the interests of that office in "lines drawn out in living characters," and who resigned his position very much to the regret of all. It was addressed to us while he was temporarily sojourning at Ballston, N.Y., soon after his retirement from office.

Gentlemen: I take pleasure in stating that while I held the office of Commissioner of Patents, more than one-fourth of all the business of the Office came through your hands. I have no doubt that the public confidence thus indicated has been fully deserved, as I have always observed, in all your intercourse with the Office, a marked degree of promptness, skill, and fidelity to the interest of your employers. Yours very truly,

Chas Mason

Judge Mason was succeeded in that important bureau by the Hon. Joseph Holt, of Kentucky, who was previously but little known beyond the confines of his own state; but who distinguished himself while he held the office of Commissioner of Patents, by his executive ability, inflexible honesty, uniform affability, and keen sympathy for the interests of the inventor. Upon the death of Governor Brown, he was appointed to the important office of Postmaster General of the United States; and immediately after entering upon his new duties he addressed to us the following pleasing letter.

Gentlemen: It affords me much pleasure to bear testimony to the able and efficient manner in which you discharged your duties as Solicitors of Patents while I had the honor of holding the office of the Commissioner. Your business was very large, and you sustained (and, I doubt not, justly deserved) the reputation of energy, marked ability, and uncompromising fidelity in performing your professional engagements.

Very respectfully, your obed. servt.
J. Holt


Scientific American, v 14 (os) p 262, 16 April 1859

To Patent Agents and Lawyers

We have at our command the combined facilities of the two largest patent agencies in the country, one being located at New York, and the other at Washington. These facilities include the constant daily access to all the official records, assignments, extensions, books, models, and papers pertaining to nearly all the American patents ever granted, and to thousands of rejected cases and foreign patents. In addition to this, we have the advantage of many years' experience in the business, during which we have, and do now maintain, a palpable pre-eminence over all other establishments of the kind in the world.

We mention these facts for the benefit of our brother agents, wherever they may happen to be located, and would say that the combined advantages of our agencies are always at their service. Our position in regard to this, as respects facilities for conducting patent business, is somewhat the same as that occupied by the leading mercantile importers in the seaboard cities in relation to the procuring of goods for country merchants. All the original sources for information and action are at our fingers' ends.

To other patent agents and lawyers we shall be happy to render every assistance in our power in any matters relating to patent business (as we are frequently having occasion to do), whether it be in the prosecution of rejected cases, the preparation of specifications, drawings, assignments, searches of the records, extensions, re-issues, appeals, etc.

In new applications it will generally be advisable to have their papers pass through our hands for revision before being sent to the Patent Office, for it is usually more difficult to straighten a case after it has been improperly admitted, than before the documents are filed. Some agents may find it convenient to have us prepare the patent papers from beginning to end. When this is desired, the model should be forwarded to us. Copies of any desired claims, or the patents, with drawings in full, we can promptly furnish.

Our brother agents are, no doubt, frequently applied to for their opinions relative to the novelty and patentability of new inventions. But such has been the wonderful augmentations of improvements within the past ten years that few persons can given an opinion worth a straw, unless it is based upon or backed up by a thorough special examination of the models and patents at Washington. We therefore advise all agents to recommend their clients to have a preliminary examination made at Washington to ascertain whether their invention is actually new. This service will be promptly rendered by us and, including a written report, will cost but a small fee. The client's name need not appear; a sketch and description of the improvement is all that we need. We shall be pleased to correspond with patent agents, at all times, and to furnish any further information, by way of making arrangements, that they desire. Address Munn & Co., New York.

In respect to taking out foreign patents we would also say that our facilities are of the most extensive and complete character. We employ the most experienced attorneys abroad, so that those who commit business to our care will nowhere have it exposed to the risks of irresponsible and incompetent sub-agents.

The Patent Agent Business

Such is the simplicity of the American patent law that the drawings and specifications of applications for patents can just as readily be prepared, if the party is competent, at a distance from the capital, as within its immediate precincts. The result is that applicants unwisely attempt to prepare their own papers; hundreds more employ country lawyers or notaries public, or justices of the peace, or other inexperienced agents, while the remainder entrust their business to the Scientific American Patent Agency and the few other skillful houses who make the practice of patent papers their specialty. If inventors were more careful at the start to avoid the employment of ignorant persons, they would often save themselves from trouble, delay and exorbitant expense. Many a poor countryman is induced to make a weary and expensive pilgrimage to Washington, under the supposition that no other method exists whereby to correct the stupid errors contained in his papers and by reason of which his patent is refused. And he innocently supposes that on his arrival he will be received with open arms by all the government officials from the President down to the doorkeepers of the Patent Office. He imagines that he has only to confront the Commissioner or the Examining officer, when all difficulties will vanish as by magic, and the patent be issued to him on the spot!

But the reality is otherwise. The applicant is informed by the attending official that until his papers are properly corrected and presented, his case will not be considered; he will be told that his explanations, if intended as amendments, must be put in writing; that he had better employ some competent party to put his ideas into shape; and that under no circumstances can a patent be issued to him on the spot, because, first the case must be officially examined in secret, and second, about two weeks' time is required to prepare and record the document before it can be issued.

If the applicant is a prudent person, his next step of course, will be to find some competent attorney to straighten and present his case aright. As he issues from the spacious portico of the Patent Office, the sign of "MUNN & CO., SOLICITORS OF PATENTS, SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN OFFICE," upon the opposite corner, strikes his eye; somebody must be employed; the name is familiar to his ear; it is a well known, experienced firm; it is the most successful agency in the country, for obtaining patents. He crosses the street, enters their office, makes known his business, and his troubles are rapidly brought to a close.

The personal attendance of an inventor at Washington is generally unnecessary, as all the business can be readily and thoroughly arranged by correspondence. Those, however, who prefer to visit Washington upon patent business, or who desire any aid or assistance are invited to call at our office in that city. We shall at all times be happy to serve them. Hundred (sic) of rejected and defectively prepared cases are annually argued and corrected by us, and our success in this especial branch of business has been very great. Inventors who propose to visit Washington would do well to preserve this paper of our paper, in order the better to keep the locality of Munn & Co.'s office in mind.


Scientific American, v 14 (os) p 263, 16 April 1859

The American Patent Office

Our view shows the United States Patent Office at Washington, and also the branch office of the Scientific American Patent Agency. It will observed that our Washington office is on the corner of Seventh and F streets, directly opposite the Patent Office.

The main front and entrance of the Patent Office is on F street, facing the south, and is seen at the left in our view; the right front is on Seventh street, and faces the east. The building occupies an entire block, is built mostly of white marble, in the Doric style of architecture, and presents the finest appearance of any of the public buildings at the capital. The edifice was designed by the late Wm. P. Elliot, a solicitor of patents and an old resident of Washington. The style of architecture was taken from the Parthenon or Temple of Minerva, at Athens; but the Patent Office greatly exceeds in its dimensions the measurement of that ancient heathen temple. The Parthenon of the Old World was dedicated to the rites of a wretched idolatry, and its uses and influence tended to degrade the human mind, and crush the uprising intellect. How much more noble is the dedication and the influence of the Parthenon of the New World! It is the very embodiment of genius, and the great encourager of progress, of knowledge, and of mental power.

By the act of March 3, 1849, the Secretary of the Interior is granted the supervision of the Patent Office, and hence his present occupancy of a great part of the building. But Mr. Elliot, who planned the building, did it solely for the useful and fine arts, and the public voice will ultimately sustain the original design.

The models are arranged in elegant glass cases, and are contained in two large halls, measuring together a length of about six hundred feet. There are two rows of cases, and they are placed in double tiers, with platforms to give access to the upper parts. The Patent Office is open daily from 9 A.M. to 3 P.M., and the models are on public exhibition. They constitute a vast museum of art and genius, the like of which exists nowhere else in the civilized world.

The history of the American Patent Office is briefly as follows:

By Act of Congress in April, 1790, entitled "An Act to promote the Progress of Useful Arts," the Secretary of State had assigned to him the duty of receiving applications for the discovery of any useful art or invention; said officer, with the Secretary of War and the Attorney-General, constituting a Board for that purpose, who issued the "Letters," which upon examination by the Attorney-General of the United States within a given period, were signed by the President of the United States.

To a single clerk in the Department of State, then held in Philadelphia, was assigned the duty of filing papers and copying the schedule of patents. The destruction by fire of the public archives, in 1814, renders it difficult to give his name.

The act of February 21, 1803, (sic) repeals that of the 10th of April, yet were all patents issued under the former act valid, and the labors of preparation of the "Letters" were assigned to the Department of State, under charge of a clerk.

In 1800, when the seat of government was removed to Washington from Philadelphia, a distinguished man of genius, a fine writer and scholar, and a great lover of the fine arts, Dr. William Thornton, was appointed the clerk. He was born in the island of Tortola, in the West Indies, of American (sic) descent. He enjoyed the confidence of General Washington, and his design of the east front of the original capitol was adopted, by the Great Chief. Dr. Thornton was an intimate friend of John Fitch and Robert Fulton (sic) of steam notoriety. The doctor was wealthy, and fond of fine horses. He was one of the original commissioners of the city, and General Washington had a great regard for him.

The Patent Office was then located in a large three-story building, known as "Blodgett's Hotel," which was also the Post Office. The model room was on a part of the second story, and the mail department of the Post Office filled the remainder. In the northwest room of the third story was a fine musical instrument of Dr. Thornton's The old "Blodgett Hotel" stood upon the site of the present south front of the General Post Office.

When the British, in 1814, proposed burning the building, Dr. T., in the most fearless yet gentlemanly manner, rode up to Admiral Cockburn, and ejaculated, "Is the character of the British to rival the Vandals in a war upon the fine arts, by the destruction of this building?" which he then first called the "Patent Office." (It had been known as "Blodgett's Hotel.") The effect was electric, for while the capitol and navy yard and rope walk were in flames, the British sailor rode off and quaffed his wine at Capitol Hall, at no time expressing any regret that "Thornton's toy shop" was left standing.

This building was afterwards occupied in the winter of 1814-15 by both Houses of Congress, when the Patent Office writing was done at the house of the clerk, George Lyon, who resided near by. It was re-occupied in 1816 by the Patent Office, Congress having secured accommodations in the "Brick Capitol."

George Lyon, clerk in the Patent Office, died in 1817, and William Elliot was appointed first clerk under Dr. Thornton, known as "Superintendent." Dr. T. died in 1827 (sic), and is buried in the Congressional Burying Ground; and he and his friend Elliot -- mathematician and astronomer -- lie within a few yards of each other.

Thornton and Elliot were assisted by another clerk, R.W. Fenwick, and this constituted the entire force of the establishment, unless we add the name of C.M. Keller, then a boy, who was the sweep, duster, porter, doorkeeper, tinkerer, and jack-of-all-trades. Of the four persons named, Mr. Keller alone survives. From the humble station he then filled he has risen, by his own exertions, to fortune and fame. As a lawyer and advocate in patent cases he stands in the front rank of the profession. Mr. Fenwick died many years ago. His son, an estimable young man, is at present employed in the Scientific American establishment.

In 1828, Thomas P. Jones was appointed to the Superintendency, and he was succeeded in 1830 by Dr. J.D. Craig, who remained in office till 1836. On July 4, 1836, a law was passed entirely remodeling the Office, and repealing the former acts. The law provided for a Commissioner, Chief Clerk, an Examiner, and three other clerks, one of whom must be a competent draughtsman and a machinist. There are other important provisions relating to the application for patents still in force, but which are not necessary to be repeated here. The Commissioner of Patents, unlike the heads of other bureaus, reports annually to Congress, and not to the Secretary.

On the 15th of December, 1836, fire was discovered in the building occupied by the Patent Office and Post Office. Mr. A. Kendall, Postmaster General, with some assistance, was enabled to save records and documents from the Post Office, but so rapid were the flames that nothing was saved from the Patent Office.

Hon. M. Ruggles, Chairman of the Investigating Committee of the Senate, in his report, alluding to the destruction of models, drawings, and records, says: -- "They not only embraced the whole history of American invention for half a century, but were the muniments of property of vast amount. The Patent Office contained also the largest and most interesting collection of models in the world."

Henry L. Ellsworth was the first Commissioner. He devoted himself with industry and ability to the organization of the Office. He also established the agricultural division, now become so useful and important. He remained in office seven years, and was succeeded by Mr. Edmund Burke, who bestowed much labor on the Office. Mr. Thomas Ewbank succeeded Mr. Burke, in 1849; his reports evince industry and ability. His successor was Mr. Silas H. Hodge, who remained in office but a short time.

Charles Mason was the next Commissioner, and, we may say without disparagement to his predecessors, brought to the Office eminent acquirements and ability. He was succeeded by the Hon. Joseph Holt, but the latter has recently been appointed Postmaster General. Mr. Holt was a most popular and able Commissioner.

The first patent was issued in July, 1790; from that date to 1800, the average annual number issued was 1820 it reached two hundred; and in 1830 it was five hundred and thirty-five. But a change of principle and rigid examination took place, which led to a reduction of the proportion of patents granted, as compared with the number of applications. In 1845, only 500 patents were granted. The Scientific American was started in this year, and its influence upon inventors soon began to be felt at the Patent Office. In 1855, there were four thousand four hundred and thirty-five applications. The number went on increasing, so that in 1858 five thousand three hundred and sixty-four applications were made.

From time to time, the clerical force has been increased, until now there ware twelve Examiners, at a salary of $2,500 each; twelve Assistant Examiners, at a salary of $1,800; a superintendent of the "Agricultural Department," a librarian, thirty-four clerks, machinists, etc.; still, so great is the business that this force is inadequate to the requirements of the Office.

For a portion of the foregoing facts relating to the early history of the Patent Office, we are indebted to Seth Elliot, Esq., of Washington, and to an article in the National Recorder, from the pen of A. Arnold, Esq.


Scientific American, v 14 (os) no 36, p 301, 14 May 1859

The New Commissioner of Patents

The Hon. W.D. Bishop, ex-Member of Congress from Connecticut, has been appointed by President Buchanan to fill the important office of Commissioner of Patents. Fortunately for the interests of the inventor and the Patent Office, the two preceding Commissioners -- Judge Mason and Mr. Holt -- were not only able men, but they held broad, liberal and comprehensive views respecting its management. They manifested large sympathy for the inventor, and had the moral courage to interfere in his behalf and protect his rights by over-ruling wrong decisions which, in the infirmity of human judgment, are by no means uncommon. This independent and manly course of action not only secured for them the cordial respect of all applicants, but also impressed the Examining force of the Office with the conviction that the Commissioner of Patents is, by virtue of his office, the highest in authority. Had they pursued any other course of action, they would have failed to secure the esteem of any. Instances of this kind could be named, but we forbear. We may say, however, in reference to Judge Mason and Mr. Holt, that they are now two of the most popular men in the country.

From a personal acquaintance with Mr. Bishop, of many years standing, we are prepared to say that he will make an able and popular Commissioner, and while he will receive and courteously respect the opinions of others, he will, in the main, do his own thinking, and will decide all questions submitted to him upon the facts, and without prejudice. Mr. Bishop is a progressive man; he believes that the end of all improvement in the arts and sciences has not yet been attained; he comes of progressive stock, and it is perhaps not too much to say that his late father, Alfred D. Bishop, was the most energetic, persevering and clear-headed business man in the State of Connecticut. The newly appointed Commissioner has no sympathy with "old-fogyism," and he will be likely to carry out the general practice of his predecessors, which has conferred so much dignity and glory upon the Patent Office. Although, probably, the youngest man ever appointed to the office of Commissioner, Mr. Bishop is nevertheless well qualified for its duties. He is a graduate of Yale College; has studied law; and in successively filling the positions of Superintendent and President of a prominent railroad, he has been accustomed to practical thinking, and, moreover, has an unusual taste for mechanism.

That Mr. Bishop is no mere novice in the matters that appertain to his new station is evidenced by the fact that he has been a reader of Scientific American for many years, and is conversant with the progress of invention, and with the business of the Patent office so far as it is developed through the columns of this journal. As a member of Congress he has represented an intelligent constituency, distinguished for their manufacturing enterprise and skill, as well as for their ingenuity; and during this period he held the important position of Chairman of the Committee on Manufactures. We predict for Mr. Bishop a successful land popular official career.


Scientific American, v 14 (os) no 37, p 312, 21 May 1859

The New Commissioner of Patents

In our last issue we announced the appointment of Hon. W.D. Bishop, of Bridgeport, Conn., to the office of Commissioner of Patents. We now have the pleasure to present to our readers an admirable likeness of this distinguished gentleman. This likeness was photographed on wood by the patented process described on page 117, Vol 13, of the Scientific American, and which has now become an extensive business, as practiced by Messrs. Waters & Tilton, at 90 Fulton street, this city.

[Article includes a large picture and signature]

Mr. Bishop was born in Bloomfield, N.J., on the 14th of September 1827, and is therefore but 31 years of age. At the age of 7 years he removed with his father's family to the State in which he now resides. He early exhibited a great fondness for mechanics and sciences generally, so much so, that his father at one time seriously entertained the idea of educating him for some scientific pursuit. He entered Yale College in 1845, graduated in 1849, and afterwards engaged in the study of law, but never practiced it, in consequence of the sudden death of his father, whereby he became one of the executors of his father's large estate, and the duties of this executorship occupied his time for the succeeding three years. These duties were of an arduous character, owing to the fact that the completion of the H.Y. & New Haven, Washington & Saratoga and Naugatuck Railroads (of which Mr. Bishop, Senr., had been the contractor) devolved upon the executors. Upon the completion of these important public works, Commissioner Bishop devoted his entire attention to railroad interests, in the several capacities of contractor, chief engineer, superintendent and president, which latter position he now holds, in relation to one of the best managed railroads in Connecticut. Mr. Bishop has acquired the reputation of a practical and thorough man of business, and has an ambition which might work the destruction of any one if uncontrolled by a calm and well-balanced judgment.

With Mr. Bishop's political principles we have nothing to do. Our object is to show to our readers the qualifications and character of the man who has been elected to fill the office of Commissioner of Patents, as in this respect they will be deeply interested. It is unusual for a young man to attain so speedily the dignified position Mr. Bishop now occupies in the public eye. It shows what can be accomplished by assiduity, perseverance and a well-directed ambition.

Since 1852 Mr. Bishop has been a candidate for the Connecticut Legislature, was a delegate to the Cincinnati Convention, and in 1857 was chosen to represent his district in Congress. He received upwards of 3,000 votes more than the presidential candidate of the same party; and while in Congress he was Chairman of the Committee of Manufactures, and acquired popularity as an eloquent speaker and reader debater. His course while in Congress was that of a strict party man; and as some of the more prominent acts of that Congress did not meet the approbation of his constituents, he was, as people sometimes say, "elected to stay at home," receiving, however, between two and three thousand more votes than he had received at the time of his election. Before he had fairly recovered from the struggle of a sharp political campaign, he was tendered the appointment to the Commissionership of Patents, as the successor to Hon. Joseph Holt, now Postmaster General of the United States.

To fill the place thus made vacant by the removal of so gifted a man as Mr. Holt is no easy task. When we consider the important interests that center in the Patent Office, and the conflicts that often arise between the claims of one inventor and another, involving delicate questions of law and fact, and the necessity of the strictest integrity in the discharge of the duties of this position, it might at first appear somewhat presumptuous on the part of the President to select so young a man for so important a trust. But so far as the press has spoken in reference to the fitness of Mr. Bishop for the office, there has been but one opinion, so far as we have seen, and from our intimate personal knowledge of his qualifications, we believe he will address himself to the duties of his new post with a zeal and discretion worthy of an older head. Mr. Bishop is a clear thinker, has an active and well-cultivated mind, is a good disciplinarian, and is accustomed to take the lead. We are therefore of the opinion, as expressed in our last number, that his administration will be wise and prudent, and, on the whole, popular and satisfactory.


Scientific American, v 14 (os) p 310, 21 May 1859

Charles M. Keller and the American Patent Office

Messrs. Editors -- In your issue of the 16th ult. Mr. Keller is spoken of as a boy in the Patent Office who was "sweep, duster, porter, doorkeeper, and jack-of-all-trades." Permit me to say that this statement is incorrect. Mr. Keller was not the messenger. His father had charge of the model room, and young Keller rendered no services but such as were voluntary and without salary or pay of any kind.

The Elder Mr. Keller swamped his fortune in the attempt to establish in this country a branch of manufacture, which, in the early part of the year 1816, he had brought with him from France. His familiarity with the progress of invention and his accurate mechanical knowledge led, as above stated, to his appointment, in 1822, by John Quincy Adams, then Secretary of State.

On the death of his father in 1829, young Keller, though still a minor, was appointed to the vacancy. In the year 1834, Mr. Pickett, of Kentucky, afterwards appointed Fourth Auditor of the Treasury, succeeded Dr. Craig as Superintendent of the Patent Office. The act of 1793 being to grant patents for discoveries and inventions, "new," etc., and the practice of the Office seeming to be in violation of the spirit of the act, for want of a proper officer in the department charged with the duty of determining "novelty," young Keller suggested to Mr. Pickett the propriety of causing the practice of the Office to conform to the spirit of the law. The intimate knowledge of domestic and foreign inventions by this time acquired by Mr. Keller from his position in the Model Department, induced Mr. Pickett to assign to him the new duty of advising applicants as to novelty or want of novelty in their inventions. In 1835 Mr. H.L. Ellsworth succeeded Mr. Pickett. By this time young Keller had still further matured his ideas, and as soon as the new Superintendent was fairly in working order, he ventured to submit for his consideration not only a plan for re-organizing the department itself, but also a project of law. Mr. Ellsworth was a man of too noble a nature to reject a plan merely because the suggestion came from a subordinate, and too liberal and comprehensive in his instincts and his intelligence not to see the beneficial workings of the project and the plan, both for inventors generally and for the Office itself. It is needless to add that this gentleman himself to the work of reformation with his accustomed natural zeal of character.

The Hon. Judge Ruggles, of Maine, was Chairman of the Senate Committee during the session of 1835-36. But for his untiring exertions in the work, inventors might, perhaps, have to this day, remained in their former comparatively unprotected condition. Stimulated by the condition of the office and the insufficiency of the laws, as portrayed by the young but earnest Examiner inchoate, Mr. Ruggles worked unceasingly during the whole of that (to inventors) memorable session. As one of the class who are reaping the substantial and practical benefits of the Act of 1836, I feel a peculiar pleasure in being able to publicly express my acknowledgements to the man who suggested and to those who cooperated in perfecting the reform. In my view, this part of the "History of the American Patent Office" is of especial interest to inventors, and the men who were instrumental in accomplishing so important a work ought never to be forgotten.

In the nightly intercourse and interchange of opinions between Judge Ruggles and the subject of this notice, incident to the work of reform during the session of 1835-36, the young man [?] acquired his first taste for, and lesson in that science which he has since so signally adorned.

After the passage of the law, and under its new regime, Mr. Keller was the first appointed Examiner. In his subsequent position as Examiner-in-Chief of the Department, his talents, industry and fidelity have left a record which any man might well be proud of, and which his successors may safely imitate. In May, 1845, against the earnest remonstrance of the Commissioner, Mr. Keller resigned his position in the Patent Office to enter upon a new but more expanded sphere of usefulness. As an advocate in patent cases I believe there is but one opinion of his talent; and as a man, they who know him best are best fitted to pronounce his eulogy.

I am yours, very truly,
Taddeus Hyatt
New York, May 9, 1859


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