James Madison
Patent for a Horizontal Water Wheel
Location of original: Offices of Beem Patent Law Firm, Chicago, IL

Key Signers
President: James Madison
Secretary of State: James Monroe
Attorney General: Richard Rush

Patent Information
Date signed: September 25, 1815
Inventor: Richard A. Donaldson and Joseph L. Wheeler
Invention Title: Horizontal Water Wheel

James Madison, as president, and James Monroe, as secretary of state, signed this patent on a new and useful improvement to the horizontal water wheel.

Text from Patent

The arms of the wheel should be placed in a contrary direction to those of the common water wheel in order to show as small a face to or against the current as may be possible consistently with necessary strength. The buckets on the gates are hung horizontally on hinges about [ ] of the distance from the lower edge and so constructed as to play freely and easily with the current; its principle while in operation is that the front is on one side being closed by the current receive its full pressure against them while those on the opposite side, are by the same power thrown open and allow the current to pass freely through the pressure on one side being strongest it must consequently be moved round the better to gain the whole of the current it will be advisable to have only four sets of gates or buckets to play on the same level while the increase of the power the number of buckets or gates may be increased by placing more arms along the length of the shaft in alternate spaces so that their be two sets. The upper ones shall be in a perpendicular medium between the lower. This wheel must necessarily be made of such proportions of wood and from/or some other weighty metal as will give it inclination to sink or swim and thereby destroy the pressure except in the direction the force is required. The advantages of this wheel it is quite unnecessary to enumerate. They are sufficiently obvious as it is particularly intended for the Ohio Mississippi and other streams west of the mountains whose waters rise and sink so rapidly as to destroy the advantages of a fale, it working equally well a considerable depth underwater as immediately under the surface.

The Donaldson, et al., patent was granted using an outdated, preprinted form; the “thirty-__” year of independence is crossed out and replaced with “fortieth.”


In April 1819, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams wrote in his diary that he visited 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.