John Adams
Patent for a Lathe or Loom for Weaving
Location of original: Offices of Beem Patent Law Firm, Chicago, IL

Key Signers
President: John Adams
Secretary of State: Timothy Pickering
Attorney General: Charles Lee

Patent Information
Date signed: March 15, 1800
Inventor: William Harris
Invention Title: Lathe or Loom for Weaving

The Harris patent, directed to a loom, is the oldest U.S. patent in the Beem collection. It is the only patent which denotes the state citizenship of the inventor, in this instance Massachusetts. The lower case “s” resembles a lower case “f” when used anywhere but the end of a word. This differs from subsequent patents in the Beem collection, which use the more modern lower case “s.”

The preprinted form used the phrase “one thousand ________ hundred” near the signature, but in the certification line the form was preprinted with the year “one thousand seven hundred ________.” The last two words, “seven hundred,” were crossed out and replaced with “eight hundred.” Additionally, the form contained a blank space for the city in which the patent was signed, which here was Philadelphia.


In 1802, then Secretary of State James Madison tired of the task of handling patent applications and hired a clerk, Dr. William Thornton, to handle the job. See Patent Office History, Chapter 7. Dr. Thornton was no ordinary clerk, however, having first studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh and then received his M.D. from the University of Aberdeen (1784). See “Thorton, William,” Encylopedia Brittanica (2006). After traveling the continent, he emigrated to the United States and settled in Philadelphia. Id. Without any formal training in architecture, he won a design competition for a library and, then, in his most famous role, he won a design competition for the U.S. Capitol, submitting drawings months after the competition had closed. Id. In 1794, George Washington appointed Dr. Thornton one of three commissioners for the city of Washington. See “William Thornton (1759-1828),” Library of Congress (2006), available on line at http://www.loc.gov/rr/print/adecenter/essays/B-Thornton.html. Thornton continued to design buildings, to study nature and botany, and to engage in farming, although less so after he was appointed first as clerk and then as superintendent of patents in the Department of State. Id.

In 1804, Mr. du Pont de Nemours applied for a patent for a method of automating the granulating and sieving of gunpowder. He had established a factory in Wilmington that would found an American industry.

On January 1, 1807, Secretary of State James Madison reported to Congress that the issuance of patents had doubled in four years, and he recommended the hiring of an additional clerk. Thornton’s job as superintendent was paying a salary of $1,400 per year. See Patent Office History, Chapter 8. For his part, Thornton spent most of his spare time writing letters to the Secretary and to Congress complaining about the poor way he was treated and the sad condition of his office. Id.