Patent History Materials Index - Patent Materials from Scientific American, vol 49 new series (Jul 1883 - Dec 1883)

Scientific American, v 49 (ns) no 4, p 48, 28 July 1883

Crippling the Patent Office

In accordance with legislation by the last Congress, the force of the Patent Office was reduced, July 1, by the discharge of twenty-five clerks. Commissioner Marble says that this reduction will necessarily cripple the efficiency of his office to a considerable extent, and it will probably compel inventors to suffer additional delay in many cases.

The Patent Office contributes a large sum yearly to the national treasury, and is therefore much more than self-sustaining. Justice to the inventors of the country would seem to demand that their business should not be injured and their progress delayed by the mistaken economy of reducing the already inadequate force of the Patent Office.


Scientific American, v 49 (ns) no 16, p 245, 20 October 1883

Inventors and Inventions

The New York Sun not long ago, in an article on some of the queer happenings in the world of discovery, said what is indisputably true, and that is, the number of successful ones is very much larger. There is always somebody working at the insoluble problem of perpetual motion or making a flying machine.It not infrequently happens that, after a patent has been refused to an inventor, a subsequent application is granted by a different examiner.

It sometimes happens that a patent is granted to one man after somebody else has failed to receive a patent for the same invention. This is a frightful source of litigation. Indeed, litigation about patent rights is so common that in the introduction of any valuable patent the legal expenses of defending it are a large part of the capital required. Immense sums were spent in defending Morse's patents for telegraphing, and the various patents for sewing machines, India rubber manufacture, and the inventions that have revolutionized industrial processes. But, when rights are once established by law, the profits are enormous. It was shown in a recent case before the United States Court that for royalties alone on the manufacture of barbed fence wire more than $1,000,000 a year were paid.

Inventors are now chiefly busy with electricity, and the Patent Office is deluged with devices for making new uses of the modern marvel, or for using it with new appliances. Many of these inventions run in the direction of motors. The opinion has gained some ground lately that storage batteries of electricity are not as successful as was at first expected. It is asserted by some that no storage battery every gives out as much electricity as it receives, and that every moment decreases the amount yielded. Edison says the best storage battery is a ton of coal, which can be used at any time to drive a dynamo machine.Others, however, still think that the storage battery will produce wonderful results.

Inventors have always sought to utilize the forces of nature for the conservation of power. A good deal of time and money has been spent on efforts to utilize the force of the rise and fall of the tide. According to some plans, the water is to be stored in a reservoir at high tide, and used to turn a water wheel when the tide falls. Another plan is to get the power from the rise and fall of a flat. There used to be a tidal mill at Astoria and another at Charleston, S.C. The large amount of land required to get the requisite area of water surface is considered an insuperable objection to tidal mills.

A good deal of money has been expended on solar engines, in the hope of getting power out of the sun's rays. John Ericsson, the inventor of the Monitor and a thousand other things, has made some beautiful solar engines, and not long ago an inventor had a model of a solar engine on top of the Cooper Union building, and managed to get up steam in a boiler. The trouble is, however, that the sun does not always shine, and the solar engine, to be of any practical use, must be accompanied with a storage reservoir of power that can be kept for a rainy day.

There is no telling of what great value the discovery of the simplest fact may be. When bromine was discovered by Ballard in 1824, nothing of importance was expected from it. Now it is a valuable factor in photography, and a useful remedy for nervous affections.

Capital is never wanted to try even the most foolish inventions. Not long ago an inventor had an idea that he could, by the use of a naked wire, produce a return current and avoid electrical disturbances. He could have got the capital to lay a long cable under ground to try his experiment. He was with difficulty dissuaded from doing this by a practical man, who saved him lots of money by wrapping several miles of cable about a barrel and arranging the naked wire as proposed by the inventor. The result was a complete failure, but the cost of the experiment was comparatively trifling. This is an illustration of the large amount of money that can be wasted through ignorance. Men will work away at an idea with no knowledge of what has been done or what can be done, only to discover at the end what they should have known at the beginning.

A good deal of money has been spent in the effort to introduce ice machines. There is, however, a strong competition to be encountered, since ice may always be had for the gathering, and transportation is cheap.

Fire escapes are numbered by the thousand. Hardly a day passes that the Fire Commissioners are not compelled to test some new plan. A good deal of room is taken up in the Patent Office with the models of these contrivances.

A very good example of the eagerness with which capital can be secured to promote the most chimerical ideas may be seen in the story of the Keely motor. The stock holders have been pretty thoroughly bled already, but are compelled to bleed still more in the hope of saving what they have already expended. The varying fate of capital invested is seen in the contrasting results of the two steam heating companies in New York city, one of which has proved a most lamentable failure, while the other has had a measure of success. It is not so certain that money invested under ground will always return a fair interest. It may be necessary to incur great expense when an under ground cable gives out, as the whole route may have to be dug up to find the break.

Accidental discoveries have supplied some of the most valuable processes of the industrial arts. It is said that the rolling of cold iron was first suggested by the fact that a workman who was placing a piece of hot iron in the rolls carelessly permitted his tongs to be drawn in. He noticed that they were rolled and not broken. He called the attention of the superintendent to the occurrence, and this led to investigation and experiment and the discovery that cold rolled iron is equal to steel for shafting purposes. The process of rolling iron cold was not long afterward patented, and millions of dollars have been made out of the patent.

There are many similar instances where observing workmen have called attention to valuable processes. A signal one was in the early period of cotton manufacture, when a good deal of trouble was caused by the cotton sticking to the bobbins. All the workmen in the mill were delayed by the necessity of stopping work to clean the bobbins. At last one workman found a way to obviate the trouble. He, and he alone in all the mill, had clean bobbins. For a long time he kept his secret to himself. He finally revealed it on the promise of a pint of beer a day for life. His secret was to "chalk the bobbins." That little scraping of chalk on the bobbins saved millions of dollars a year, and the observing workman got not only his beer but a competence. Each extension of modern enterprise and skill brings with it a train of inventions. The railway, the telegraph, the steamboat, the development of iron, electricity, and petroleum, have each produced a long line of inventors more or less successful, so that each of these industries might have a creditable exhibition by itself.


Scientific American, v 49 (ns) no 21, p 324, 24 November 1883

Inventions and Inventors.

The beginning of inventions is very remote. The first idea,a born within some unknown brain, passes thence into others, and at last comes forth complete, after a parturation, it may be, of centuries. One starts the idea, another develops it, and so on progressively, until at last it is elaborated and worked out in practice; but the first not less than the last is entitled to his share in the merit of the invention, were it only possible to measure and apportion it duly. Sometimes a great original mind strikes upon some new vein of hidden power, and gives a powerful impulse to the inventive faculties of man which lasts through generations. More frequently, however, inventions are not entirely new, but modifications of contrivances previously known, though to a few, and not yet brought into practical use.Glancing back over the history of mechanism, we occasionally see an invention seemingly full born, when suddenly it drops out of sight, and we hear no more of it for centuries. It is then taken up de novo by some inventor, stimulated by the needs of his time, and falling again upon the track, he recovers the old foot marks, follows them up, and complete the work.

There is also such a thing as inventions being born before their time, the advanced mind of one generation projecting that which cannot be executed for want of the requisite means; but in due process of time, when mechanism has got abreast of the original idea, it is at length carried out, and thus it is modern inventors are enabled to effect many objects which their predecessors had tried in vain to accomplish. As Louis Napoleon has said, "Inventions born before their time remain useless until the level of common intellects rises to comprehend them." For this reason, misfortune is often the lot of the inventor before his time, though glory and profit may belong to his successors.Hence the gift of inventing not unfrequently involves a yoke of sorrow. Many of the greatest inventors have lived neglected, and died unrequited, before their merits could be recognized and estimated. Even if they succeed, they raise up hosts of enemies in the persons whose methods they propose to supersede. Envy, malice, and detraction meet them in all their forms; they are assailed by combinations of rich and unscrupulous persons to wrest from them the profits of their ingenuity; and last, and worst of all, the successful inventor often finds his claims to originality decried, and himself branded as a copyist and a pirate.

Among the inventions born out of time, and before the world could make adequate use of them, we can only find space to allude to a few, though they are so many that one is not disposed to accept the words of Chaucer as true, that "There is nothing new but has once been old;" or, as another writer puts it, "There is nothing new but what has before been known and forgotten;" or, in the words of Solomon, "The thing that hath been is that which shall be, and there is no new thing under the sun." One of the most important of these is the use of steam, which was well known to the ancients; but though it was used to grind drugs, to turn a spit, and to excite the wonder and fear of the credulous, a long time elapsed before it became employed as a useful motive power.The inquiries and experiments on the subject extended through many ages.

Friar Bacon, who flourished in the thirteenth century, seems fully to have anticipated, in the following remarkable passage, nearly all that steam could accomplish, as well as the hydraulic engine and the diving bell, though the flying machine yet remains to be invented: "I will now," says the friar, "mention some of the wonderful works of art and nature in which there is nothing of magic, and which magic could not perform. Instruments may be made by which the largest ships, with only one man guiding them, will be carried with greater velocity than if they were full of sailors. Chariots may be constructed that will move with incredible rapidity without the help of animals. Instruments of flying may be formed in which a man sitting at his ease and meditating on any subject may beat the air with his artificial wings after the manner of birds. A small instrument may be made to raise or depress the greatest weights. An instrument may be fabricated by which one man may draw a thousand men to him by force and against their will, as also machines which will enable men to walk at the bottom of the seas or rivers without danger."
-- Aldebaran, in the American Artisan


Scientific American, v 49 (ns) no 22, p 337, 1 December 1883

How the Inventor Plagues his Poor Wife

A facetious chap connected with one of our daily newspapers gives the following amusing burlesque on the trials of an inventor's wife:

"It is all very well to talk about working for the heathen," said one, as the ladies put up their sewing, "but I'd like to have some one tell me what I am to do with my husband." "What is the matter with him?" asked a sympathetic old lady. "William is a good man," continued the first, waving her glasses in an argumentative way, "but William will invent. He goes inventing round from morning till night, and I have no peace or comfort. I didn't object when he invented a fire escape, but I did remonstrate when he wanted me to crawl out of the window one night last winter to see how it worked. Then he originated a lock for the door that wouldn't open from midnight to morning, so as to keep burglars out. The first time he tried it he caught his coattail in it, and I had to wall around him with a pan of hot coals all night to keep him from freezing." "Why didn't he take his coat off?" "I wanted him to, but he stood around till the thing opened itself, trying to invent some way of unfastening it. That's William's trouble. He will invent. A little while ago he got up a cabinet bedstead that would shut and open without handling. It went by clockwork. William got into it, and up it went. Bless your heart, he stayed in there from Saturday afternoon till Sunday night, when it flew open and disclosed William with the plans and specifications of a patent washbowl that would tip over just when it got so full. The result was that I lost all my rings and a breastpin down the waste pipe.Then he got up a crutch for a man that could also be used as an opera-glass. Whenever the man leaned on it up it went, and when he put it to his eye to find William, it flew out into a crutch and almost broke the top of his head off. Once he invented a rope ladder to be worn as a guard chain and lengthened out with a spring. He put it round his neck, but the spring got loose and turned it into a ladder and almost choked him to death. Then he invented a patent boot heel to crack nuts with, but he mashed his thumb with it and gave it up. Why, he has a washtub full of inventions. One of them is a prayerbook that always opens at the right place. We tried it one morning at church, but the wheels and springs made such a noise that the sexton took William by the collar and told him to leave his fire engines at home when he came to worship. The other day I saw him going up to the street with a model of a grain elevator sticking out of his hip pocket, and he is fixing up an improved shot tower in our bed room."


Scientific American, v 49 (ns) no 23, p 353, 8 December 1883

[Special Correspondence]
Patent Office Matters

The new Commissioner of Patents is beginning to get into the harness and to gather up all the details of the various divisions of the office. "If I could attend solely to the judicial portion of my duties, which are in consonance with my tastes and previous study," he said the other day, "I should find the position a very pleasant one. But as I am responsible for the conduct of the entire office, I must make myself thoroughly familiar with the minor details in order to properly perform the executive functions which devolve upon me."

"You find the various heads of division efficient, don't you?"

"Yes, as far as I know, they are fully competent for the positions they fill. Of course, I have not yet had time to thoroughly understand each one and take his mental gauge, but I think they are all good men."

In reference to the issuing of patents, a falling off is apparent during the present quarter. This is considered rather singular, as there has been a steady increase from quarter to quarter of from 12 to 15 per cent during the past three years.The falling off from the past quarter is about 6 percent.

Perhaps few have an idea of the number of patents that go through all the stages of examination and then, when they reach the point of issue, are held up for non-payment of the final fee.There are at least 100,000 of such applications now in the division of issues, and probably that is largely under the actual amount. That sum represents 5,000 distinctive patents, and at least 200 are returned to the files as forfeited each month, and the total number of forfeited, rejected, and abandoned applications is upward of 60,000.

Yet applications are being received in great numbers daily, for the inventive genius of the country is still on the alert, and over 2,000 applications for patents were filed in the month of October.

The class of inventions receiving the greatest number of applications, and the one which seems to be receiving the special attention of the inventive genius, is that of electricity -- its application and appliances.

This class is subdivided in the Patent Office into 70 sub-classes, and prior to July 1, 1881, there were issued into class 36 -- electricity -- 3,890 patents. From July, 1881, to July, 1882, 1,001 patents were granted in this class, and from July, 1882, to July, 1883, 1,326 patents were granted. The increase in the number of patents shows that the increase in the applications of electricity must also be very great.

For convenience of reference an index has been published, arranged alphabetically, numerically, and by sub-classes of inventions. this index consists of two volumes, the first containing a list of all patents to July, 1882, and an appendix from July, 1882, to July, 1883.

The exchange of publications with foreign countries, under the international patent system, and the depositing in the different capitols and district courts of such copies, under the seal of the Patent Office, is a means of great service to inventors in cases of litigation.

In the Patent Office inventions are classified into 170 classes and 3,344 sub-classes, and as an item of interest, and to show the great labor in an examination for a patent, a few lines of inventions representing different industries, with the number of patents in each, have been looked up. There are 466 patents for potato diggers, 581 for wheel plows, 218 for cotton planters, 3,151 for fences, 751 for fire escapes, 667 for jewelry, 82 for serial navigation, 925 for wind wheels, 571 for velocipedes, 2,667 for car couplings, 3,524 for harness, 5,098 for packing and storing vessels, 80 for billiard tables, 330 air and gas engines, 569 gridirons, 414 burglar alarms, 161 apple parers, 1,242 spinning wheels, and 3,047 sewing machines.

The work of the various divisions of the Patent Office is not in so advanced a condition as it was a year ago, when Commissioner Marble reported that with the exception of one or two divisions the work was practically up to date. The large increase in the number of applications for the first three-quarters of the year is probably the cause of the delay in bringing the work up. The largest number of cases on hand is in the division of textiles, which show us a record of 451, while the smallest number is in the division of packing and metal working, which has only 47.



Scientific American, v 49 (ns) no 23, p 360, 8 December 1883

The London Inventors' Record says: It is not generally known that it once cost as much to take out a patent for inventions as to take out a patent of nobility. In 1623, when the Statute of Monopolies was passed, some advocate of protection for the rights of inventors was unfortunate enough to use the word "patent" in connection therewith, and as the only patent then known was one of nobility, some official wiseacre was struck at once with the brilliant idea of affixing the same charge to the one as to the other. There have been important differences, however, between the two classes holding letters patent, one of which could not secure them without conferring a boon on his fellow men, while the other could obtain them by merely possessing a courtly tongue, a good leg, or a handsome person; yet, mirabile dictu, the latter ranks high in the estimation of his fellow men, while it is often the fate of the former to remain unknown, even after his invention has benefited the entire human race.


Scientific American, v 49 (ns) no 24, p 373, 15 December 1883

Affairs at the Patent Office
Washington, December 2, 1883

The new change of time to accommodate the railroads, for that is really all this change was made for, and the consequent bringing to public notice the fact that some railroads had adopted the twenty-four hour system of reckoning time, seems to have had an influence upon inventive genius, for applications are pouring into the Patent Office for devices for clocks and watches with dials upon which the extended hours are noted. Many of these are quite ingenious, but the majority are not actually new, but are simply modifications of a system which was in vogue some four hundred years ago. An inspection of some French publications of the fifteenth century discloses the fact that the manner of duplicating and marking the time from 1 to 24, representing the twenty-four hours of the day, was practiced at that date. A notable instance was shown me in a work of that period containing a plate of a watch with the hours from 1 to 12 in Roman characters upon the outer rim of the dial, while upon an inner circle were the hours from 13 to 24 in Arabic figures.This dial belonged to a watch in Prince Pierre Soltykoff's collection, and was of gold and enamel of most elaborate workmanship, the sides being of rock crystal, through which the works could be seen. The age of the watch is not absolutely ascertained, but from certain characteristics of the movement it is believed to date from the beginning of the reign of Henry II of France (A.D. 1547).

The Examiner of Interferences has the past week made decisions in several cases which have been for a long time in litigation before the office, and the results of which have been anticipated with considerable interest. In the case of Jablochkoff vs. Brush, secondary batteries as applied to electric light, Brush showed by evidence that the device which Jablochkoff claimed as his invention, and in which the interference was brought, had been in public use for over two years, and the examiner dissolved the interference. This is one of the first cases under the recent decision of the Supreme Court of the District, as to the taking of testimony to establish the public use of a patent.

In the case of Crompton, Fitzgerald, Biggs, and Beaumont vs. Brush, also secondary battery, a decision has been given in favor of Brush. The plaintiffs relied on a foreign patent, but that patent was ruled out.

In the case of Kieth, Shaw, and Brush vs. Faure, and Kieth, Shaw, Maloney, Brush vs. Faure, and application to extend the time for taking testimony has been refused. These cases have now been hanging for over a year, and a near settlement seems probable.

Two interesting telephone cases are now under consideration by the Examiner of Interferences, and will probably be shortly decided. These are Eldred vs. Shaw and Forium vs. Shaw. The point involved is the telephone as applied to the exchange system.

Another examiner has resigned to go into practice against the Office. As has been frequently said, the rates of compensation for the skilled labor acquired only by experience in the Patent Office are so disproportionate to the importance of the services, that it seems that young men of brains and ambition simply use their positions in the Office to acquire a complete familiarity with the rulings and practice, and then resign to utilize that knowledge for their own benefit and that of their clients. While the ranks of patent attorneys are thus recruited the business of the government is really crippled, for new men are constantly being educated only to go out as their predecessors when they shall have become sufficiently well informed to show the Office its weakness, and to win for their clients that which ought to come without the aid of an attorney.



Scientific American, v 49 (ns) no 26, p 405, 29 December 1883

Affairs at the Patent Office
[Special Correspondence]
Washington, D.C., December 17

As those applications for patents on which the finals fees were paid on the 13th inst. will not be issued until January 1, 1884, all of the patents which will be issued in the year 1883 have now been determined upon, and the total issues for the year may be obtained. A calculation shows that during the year 1883 there have been issued 21,196 patents, 167 reissues, 1,020 designs, 902 trade marks, and 906 labels. The total number issued since July, 1836, when the record was first started, is 289,793 patents, 10,418 reissues, 14,465 designs, 10,769 trade marks, and 3,743 labels.

These figures indicate in some degree the immense amount of labor performed by the Patent Office, and the record for the present year shows how rapidly the spirit of invention is increasing.

During the past week, the speaking telephone interference cases were heard before the Examiners-in-Chief in Appeals from the decision of the Examiner of Interferences. The occasion was a notable one from the number of distinguished counsel who appeared for the different claimants, among them Mr. Roscoe Conkling.

These interferences were declared in 1878, and they involve not only the art of method broadly of transmitting articulative speech by throwing electrical undulations corresponding to the sonorous vibrations of spoken words upon a wire, but the various forms of application that had been suggested up to that time for carrying this method into practical operation. Seven parties now lay claim to the merit of this striking invention, viz.: Alexander Graham Bell, J.W. McDonnough, Thos. A. Edison, Elisha Gray, A.E. Dolbear, Francis Blake, and J.H. Irwin. A vast amount of testimony was submitted, and the Examiner of Interferences, after a long delay, announced his opinion last June in a pamphlet of 350 printed pages.

This opinion is an epitome of the case. The first thirty pages are devoted to an examination of the state of the art as described in prior publications. An explanation and construction of the various issues involved occupies the next thirty-five pages, and in two hundred and seventy one pages following the Examiner traces the history of the invention of each party as disclosed in the testimony. The conclusion is then drawn that Bell is entitled to judgment of priority for the fundamental invention of the telephone as a whole and for the greater part of the particular devices involved in the interference. Mr. McDonnough is, however, adjudged the first inventor of the telephone receiver, which is a constituent and necessary part of any speaking apparatus, and Mr. Edison is awarded a particular form of the water telephone, an instrument now out of use and of very little importance.

While the Examiner enters upon a minute investigation of the facts of the case, he declares that he is controlled to some extent by certain technical presumptions arising upon the face of the papers. These state that he is not entirely clear that Bell had any knowledge, at the time his application was filed, of any practical apparatus for speaking purposes, but that he must assume, as in other cases, that the invention was made at least as early as that time. The Examiner's rulings upon these points, as well as his findings of fact, were arraigned as errors upon the appeal. It was argued before the Board that the controversy should be determined upon its merits, and not upon strained constructions of the issue and technical presumptions at variance with the facts in the case. The hearing was concluded on December 15, and it will probably be some months before the Board will formulate its decision.



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