I was recently reading an article by Mary Harrell-Sesniak which she posted on 27 Feb 2013 on her blog and which was shown on Genealogybank.com. She also writes for Rootsweb.com. It got me thinking as I have found some fascinating things by searching to see if any of our ancestors held patents!
Some years back I found something very interesting on one Frederick Proctor Gorin, my daughters’ kinsman. He originally was living in St. Louis, MO., after his branch of the family had moved from Kentucky. He was listed in the City Directories as a stenographer for a typewriting machine company. Very early in my research I had run across something about him patenting something that had to do with the “typewriting machine.” It took me a long time but well spent because I found his patents on line (he had more than one). Lo and behold, he patented the space bar on the typewriter! As I type today on my keyboard, the right thumb is constantly hitting that space bar! A search at National Archives revealed that he had written a book on how to use this new typewriter, and through their graciousness, they made me a photostatic copy of his book, the only one known to exist. What a treasure.
Oh no, I didn’t learn anything more about family births and deaths, but I did learn a lot about Frederick. He also patented a bookkeeping machine, or a calculator. I printed off page after page of the schematics he had patiently drawn up showing every part of a typewriter. Later Frederick moved to Seattle, Washington and became – a patent attorney!
I’m going to quote things from Mary Harrell-Sesniak’s article because it is the first article that I’ve ever found that really explained what was being invented and how it would be patented.
If our pioneer and later ancestors needed something and it didn’t exist – they created it. I have found several inventions noted in the County Order Books in Barren County. Many times the patent holder would sell the rights to someone else, or sell part of his “territory” to someone else.
Some of the inventions that Ms. Harrell-Sesnick reproduced were: a mud moving machine, a better spinning wheel, a lace loom and more. Locally I found a patent for a sewing machine, mattress making and various farm equipment.
How did you get a patent in early America? They received patent protection under an “Act to Promote the Progress of Useful Arts” which was granted 10 April 1790. The act read, in part: “to such persons or petitioners, his, her or their heirs, administrators or assigns for any term not exceeding fourteen years, the sole and exclusive right and liberty of making, constructing, using and vending to others to be used, the said invention or discovery.”
There was more to the act as it had stipulations including a statement that the issued patent “would be prima facia evidence that the said patentee or patentees, was or were the first and true inventor of inventors, discover or discovers of the thing so specified.”
Filing fees were also specified which included a cost of $3.85. Of this, 50 cents was the fee for receiving and filing the petition; 10 cents per copy sheet which could contain only 100 words; $2.00 for making out the patent; $1.00 for affixing the great seal and 25 cents to endorse the day of delivering the same to the patentee.
Now that I have your attention, what are your chances of finding a patent? It’s not easy but patience is a virtue! It is said that about 10,000 of the earliest patent documents were burned in an 1836 fire at the Post Office Building. Only about 1/3rd of these have been restored, primarily from family members who had copies or from archives. Eli Whitney’s patent for the cotton gin survived.
The author states that if you have what is known as an X-patent (one where the original was burned), contact the U.S. Patent Office!
You can start your search in several places. I did it before these sites were available, in other words, the hard way. I had the patent number from the copy of the book and it still took me a long time to weave my way through the different categories (of which there are MANY) of patents. If you have a subscription to GenealogyBank’s Newspapers Archives, you can do a search there. I do and it pays for itself in my research. If I was looking for a patent here, I would start searching “Invention” or “Patent” include the individual’s name and enter Barren County, KY. Google Books and Google Patents are other sources. A search of the County Order books might be profitable. Since I didn’t have anything but the patent number, I just originally did a search for “Patent #____+Frederick Gorin.” Little by little I went through the maze and finally found it. It was worth the search!
Today, patents are broken down into several categories and the length of the patent varies.
So, perhaps on a winter day when you’ve run out of ideas of where to look next – try your ancestor’s name on a patent search. You might luck out!