James Madison
Patent for a Wooden Still
Location of original: Offices of Beem Patent Law Firm, Chicago, IL

Key Signers
President: James Madison
Secretary of State: James Monroe
Attorney General: William Pinkney

Patent Information
Date signed: August 3, 1813
Inventor: John James Giraud
Invention Title: Wooden Still
James Madison, as president, and James Monroe, as secretary of state, signed this patent on a new and useful improvement in a wooden still as well as an improvement in the distilling process.

On display is the first page of the patent, which is bound like a book with blue ribbon. The form differs from #5. For example, the preprinted text is no longer in script. Also, the year “one thousand eight hundred and thirteen” as well as the “thirty-eighth” year of independence, is included in the preprinted form, whereas the previous patent (#5) was not specific to any year of independence.



During the War of 1812, on August 25, 1814, Thornton observed the burning by the British of public buildings in Washington. See Patent Office History, Chapter 11. Informed that the British were preparing to burn the War Office and Blodgett’s Hotel (a misnomer: Blodgett’s originally was intended to be a hotel, but the bankruptcy of its builder led to its use as the site of the Thornton’s office), Thornton made his way to Blodgett’s Hotel to see if he could remove a musical instrument he had in the building. According to contemporaneous accounts, Thornton was so successful in pressing his request for sparing of his musical instrument that he went on to ask, also successfully, that the patent models (and thus the building in which they were housed) be spared as useful to all mankind, not just Americans, urging the British not to follow the example of the Turks in their burning of the Library at Alexandria, which act was justly condemned by the judgment of history. (1)

In April 1819, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams wrote in his diary that he visited the Superintendent Thornton’s office, and that Thornton gave him a tour of the model room, leading to the Secretary’s new understanding of the value for engineers in study of patents and models. See Patent Office History, Chapter 12.

John Quincy Adams continued to take an interest in patents, as Secretary of State in 1823, intervening to authorize hiring of a skilled mechanic for repair of patent models, see Patent Office History, Chapter 12, and later as President, delivering a message to Congress in 1825 calling for improvement of the patent system, even while in his ongoing responsibilities he often worked late into the night to review and sign patents. See Paul C. Nagel, John Quincy Adams (1997).

The Patent Act of 1836 marked a major, systemic revision of U.S. patent law and practice, providing for the creation of the U.S. Patent Office (which many years later was provided with additional authority over trademarks and was renamed the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which is the name it bears today). Enactment of the Patent Act of 1836 was spurred by complaints about the grant of patents for things that lacked novelty, and also by the growing number of inventions in the U.S. and the need for examination of applications and issuance of patents to deserving inventors, and the inability of a small office within the State Department to handle the increasing volume of applications. Modern claim drafting practices worldwide, requiring the applicant or his or her attorney to “particularly specify and point out the part, improvement or combination, which he [or she] claims as his [or her] own invention or discovery,” trace their origin to the Patent Act of 1836.

It was on July 13, 1836, that patents were first issued with patent numbers, beginning on that date with the number 1 (issued to U.S. Senator J. Ruggles for his invention of “Traction Wheels”), and proceeding in numerical order. Subsequently, such older patents as could be identified (many were destroyed in the Patent Office Fire of December 15, 1836, see http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/ac/ahrpa/opa/kids/special/1836fire.htm) were provided with “X” numbers and, at that time, Samuel Hopkins’s 1790 patent was numbered “X000001.”

The historic, original U.S. patents in the Beem Collection of Presidential-Signed Patents were issued between 1800 and 1835 and, thus, they were issued without patent numbers. It presumably would be possible to correlate them with X-numbers, however, this correlation has not yet been performed.

(1) Thornton’s sparing of Blodgett’s Hotel nevertheless resulted in the eviction of his office in favor of Congress, which, now homeless, met in Blodgett’s Hotel. Also, the office ultimately did burn (due to an accidental fire caused by unsafe but not uncommon indoor storage of hot ashes), along with almost all its records and models, in 1836, while awaiting construction of a new Patent Office building.