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.

History: Superintendent of Patents

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.

Patent Transcript – Front Page

The United States of America

To all to whom these Letters Patent shall come:

WHEREAS William Harris, a citizen of the State of Massachusetts in the United States, hath alledged that he has invented a new and useful improvement

Being a new Lathe or Loom for weaving,

which improvement has not been known or used before his application; has made oath that he does verily believe that he is the true inventor or discoverer of the said improvement; has paid into the Treasury of the United States, the sum of thirty dollars, delivered a receipt for the same, and presented a petition to the Secretary of State, signifying a desire of obtaining an exclusive property in the said improvement, and praying that a patent may be granted for that purpose: THESE ARE THEREFORE to grant, according to law, to the said William Harris, his heirs, administrators, or assigns, for the term of fourteen years, from the fifteenth day of the present Month of March the full and exclusive right and liberty of making, constructing, using, and vending to others to be used, the said improvement, a description whereof is given in the schedule hereto annexed, and is made a part of these presents.

IN TESTIMONY WHEREOF, I have caused these Letters to be made Patent, and the Seal of the United States to be hereunto affixed.

GIVEN under my hand, at the City of Philadelphia this fifteenth day of March ~ in the Year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and of the independence of the United States of America, the twenty fourth.

John Adams
Timothy Pickering Secretary of State.

City of Philadelphia — To wit:

I DO HEREBY CERTIFY, That the foregoing Letters Patent, were delivered to me on the fourteenth day of March in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred eight hundred to be examined; that I have examined the same, and find them conformable to law. And I do hereby return the same to the Secretary of State, within fifteen days from the date aforesaid, to wit: On this 14th day of March in the year aforesaid.

Charles Lee
Attorney General

Patent Transcript – Back Page

The Schedule referred to in these Letters Patent and making part of the [illegible] containing a Description of William Harris’ improvement; Being a new Lathe or Loom for weaving.

A short description of William Harris’ invention or improvement in a Lathe for a loom. The lathe is a long narrow box and when in operation swings like a lathe in a common loom. The cap or top piece of the box has an opening in the center to admit the handle of a Slide. In the back piece are placed several sets of perpendicular reeds at intervals which serve like reeds in other looms to preserve the warping distinct and beat up the filling. The front piece has a horizontal [illegible] from one end to the other to allow the shuttles motion; and perpendicular holes corresponding in number and size, and opposite to those in the back piece filled with reeds, these perpendicular holes admit the warping. The bottom piece rises up high as to allow the shuttle to rest and slide upon them. The Slide is wholly within the [illegible] and is principal part of the lathe. The pendents of it are made of Iron or Brass or other hard metal or substance. The top piece of it lies upon brass clasps which are fixed pendent from the bottom of the cap. On these clasps the slide moves from right to left. The slide is something shorter than the lathe so that it may receive its motion within it. This motion is communicated to it by the hands, by means of the handle fixed to it through the openings in the centre of the Cap. The opening must of course be long enough to give the [illegible] motion to the Slide. By this motion of the Slide, its pendents strike the Stocks of the [illegible] and throw them across the perpendicular holes in the front [illegible] through the warping prepared at the same time for their [illegible].

The Shuttles are composed of two parts – the Shuttle part and Stock parts. The Shuttle parts remain on the outside in front and are prepared with quills containing the filling like other shuttles and quills. The stock parts are placed horizontally in the [illegible] in the front piece and rest upon the high parts of the bottom. The stock parts must be balanced by their own weight or by the addition of leads so as to retain their position and not to be too easily or tardily thrown by the pendents of the [illegible]. A more exact and clear description of the use construction and properties of the lathe is given in the Specification filed by the said William Harris in the Office of the Secretary of State.

Mr. William Harris. The Patentee
died at East Bridgewater, Mass
AD. 1831.

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