Patent for a Method of Constructing Roads
Location of original: Offices of Beem Patent Law Firm, Chicago, IL
President: Andrew Jackson
Secretary of State: John Forsyth
Attorney General: Benjamin F. Butler
Date signed: October 14, 1835
Inventor: Thomas Earl
Invention Title: Constructing Roads
This patent has an intricate print of a boat surrounded by crashing waves and whales in the water at the top of the first page. This design is unique to this collection, and its connection to patents or the patent office is not readily apparent.
Also, this patent includes a space to record the oath taken by the inventor, but the language used differs from other patents in the Beem collection, i.e., “hath affirmed” as opposed to “hath made oath.”
PATENT ACT OF 1836
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). 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 with 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 the 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, were provided with X numbers and, at that time, Samuel Hopkins’s 1790 patent was numbered “X000001.”
The Beem Collection includes original U.S. patents issued between 1800 and 1835, and thus were issued without patent numbers. It presumably would be possible to correlate them with X-numbers, but to our knowledge, this correlation has not been performed.
THE PATENT OFFICE FIRE OF 1836
On the morning of December 15, 1836, the Patent Office, then located at the Blodgett’s Hotel in Washington, D.C., was consumed by fire. Among the lost patent-related materials were an estimated 7,000 models and 9,000 drawings of pending and patented inventions. Also destroyed in the flames were the file histories of thousands of patents and pending applications; these losses were considered the most serious because without supporting documentation, a patent was not valid and an application could not be prosecuted.
In the 46 years prior to the fire, the United States government had issued about 10,000 patents. Congress acted to restore those records that could be reconstructed from private files and reproduce models, which were deemed the most valuable and interesting. Patents whose records were not restored were cancelled. There were a total of 2,845 patents restored.
Even while patent activity in the U.S. accelerated, the British patent system continued to function at an active pace, as indicated, for example, by the grant of a patent signed by Queen Victoria in 1843 for a “method of heckling flax and hemp,”.