Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Patent and the Pin

United States Patent Statute Signed Into Law: 1790

On this date in 1790, President George Washington signed into law the first U.S. Patent Statute. At the time, only 12 states had ratified the Constitution. Rhode Island in fact ratified the Constitution 49 days after the first patent law was created. The concept of a Patent Office would come later. For this first statute, anyone desiring a patent was required to submit their invention to the Secretary of State who would review it with the Secretary of War and the Attorney General. The first patents had a term of 14 years. The first patent was issued to Samuel Hopkins of Pittsford, VT on July 31, 1790 for a method of making potash. That first year, only three patents were granted. All of the original patent records were lost in a terrible fire in December of 1836 after approximately ten thousand patents had been issued. The (by then) U.S. Patent Office began numbering the patents all over again at No. 1. Today, over six million patents have been issued in the United States.


History of the United States Patent Office, Kenneth W. Dobyns, 1994

History of Patent Law, Wikipedia

Safety Pin Patented: 1849

On this date in 1849, Walter Hunt was granted a US Patent (No, 6,281) for the safety pin. According to the US Patent Office website, Hunt was a prolific inventor who in 1834 had built America's first sewing machine. He didn't patent it out of concern for putting hand sewers out of work (Hunt was a Quaker). No such concern would stop Elias Howe from patenting his own sewing machine some 20 years later. Expanding on the story of the safety pin, apparently Hunt owed his patent draftsman $15 and the college suggested that Hunt invent something to pay the debt. The result was the safety pin. He sold the rights to the draftsman for $400, a handsome sum but nothing like the invention's value. This was characteristic of Hunt who was one of the most prolific inventors of the era... but a lousy businessman.


The Safety Pin, Wikipedia


1917: Robert Burns Woodward, 1965 Nobel Prize Winner in Chemistry for his work in organic synthesis. Woodward was admitted to MIT in the fall of 1933 and a year later asked to leave for "inattention to his formal studies". Fortunately for all, he was readmitted in the Fall of 1935, completing his bachelors degree in 1936 and his Ph.D in 1937.


Nobel Biography, Nobel Prize Website

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