Extract from Ten Years in Washington by Mary Clemmer Ames

From Ten Years in Washington, Life and Scenes in the National Capital As a Woman Sees Them, By Mrs. Mary Clemmer Ames, A.D. Worthington & Co., Hartford, Conn (1873)



[heading omitted here]

With the settlement of the English colonies in America came a
great many English customs and laws, and among those adhered to
was that of granting patents or passing special Acts for the
protection of inventors.

In 1728, the Legislature of Connecticut granted the exclusive
right of practicing the business or trade of steel-making,
provided the petitioners improved the art to any good and
reasonable perfection within two years. In 1785, the State of
Maryland passed an act giving to one James Rumsey the exclusive
right to construct, employ and navigate boats of an improved
construction, to run against the current of rapid rivers. In
1787, an act was passed vesting the exclusive right of propelling
boats by steam and water for a limited time. In this year a
number of acts were passed to protect inventions of machines for
ruff-carding-belts, grinding flour, etc., and in 1789, one for
the protection of a hand fire-engine in New Hampshire was

The founders of the Constitution saw the advantage to be
derived from protecting the useful arts and sciences, and we find
in Article 1, Section 8, the authority and power given Congress
"to promote the progress of science and the useful arts by
securing, for a limited time, to authors and inventors, the
exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries,"
etc.; "to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for
carrying into execution the foregoing powers." Accordingly,
Congress, in 1790, immediately after the ratification of the
Constitution, found it necessary and thought it beneficial to
enact a statute which authorized the issue of a patent to
inventors and discoverers of any useful manufacture, engine,
machine, and those who should devise any improvement thereon not
before known or used.

The application, consisting of a clear description of the
invention, was at that time made to the Secretary of State, and
the Attorney General of the United States. If such application
was found to be new, a patent was issued by authority of any two
persons enumerated, attested by the signature of the President of
the United States, who granted to the inventor the exclusive
right of making, constructing, using, or vending to others to be
used, the invention or discovery, for the term of fourteen years.

As the nation increased in power and talent, this Act was
modified as the necessities of the time required. Abuses crept
in, the most noted of which was the granting and issuing of a
great many patents without any record being kept to indicate that
such patents were ever granted. This was caused by lack of
organization and want of proper assistance. The Executive and
Members of the Cabinet, having other duties to perform, neglected
the proper examination of applications, and the system
degenerated into as bad a one as the English.

This Act, with the amendment, was, in 1836, swept from the
statute books, and the Patent Office was established on a surer
basis, with an organization of a Commissioner, Chief Clerk, an
Examiner, a Draughtsman, and some five clerks to conduct the
examination and issues of applications. As the decisions of the
Commissioner, who was then presumed to examine all applications,
was not always impartial and right, an appeal was allowed to a
Board, composed of three disinterested and competent persons, who
were appointed by the Secretary of State, as occasion required.

The Patent Office Building, which was at that time situated
on the present site of the General Post Office, was completely
destroyed by fire in December 1836, and all models, drawings and
records were consumed. Congress appropriated money, and issued
circulars directed to all who were thought to be interested in
the restoration.

The majority of the patentees sent in duplicates of their
papers and models, but many were never heard from, and for this
reason the office is unable to present a complete record of the
grants. After the fire, the business of the Office was conducted
in the City Hall building until the present building was erected
for the Patent Office, a few years later. In 1849, the Office
was placed under the supervision of the Secretary of the Interior
or Home Department, where it now remains.

The fostering of invention encouraged home manufactures, one
of the results most eagerly sought, after the war with Great
Britain. So active became the inventive genius and so prolific
of results, that Congress was compelled, from time to time, to
increase the examining corps, and the little band of seven of
seven persons, who occupied the contracted room in the City Hall,
has expanded into a corps of eighty examiners and assistants,
more than two hundred clerks and other official, all under the
control of a Commissioner and an Assistant Commissioner.

The grant of one thousand patents in 1836, when the office
was first regularly organized, has enlarged into one hundred and
sixty thousand at the present time. And the latter number is
scarcely two-thirds of the number of applications. With this
enormous increase followed a corresponding labor and intricacy in
examining so large a number of applications, but so perfectly has
the system been developed, that very few mistakes are made in the
way of wrongfully granting patents.

Hon. S.S. Fisher, United States Commissioner of Patents,
before the American Institute, New York City, September 28, 1869,
made an eloquent address concerning the American System of
granting patents, from which I make the following extracts:

"The great Patent Act of 1836 established what is now
distinctively the American system in regard to the grant of
letters patent.

"In the Patent Office, under the act of 1836, the
Commissioner and one examining-clerk were thought to be
sufficient to do the work of examining into the
patentability of the two or three hundred that were offered;
now sixty-two examiners are over-crowded with work, a force
of over three hundred employees is maintained, and the
applications have swelled to over twenty thousand per annum.
This year the number of patents granted will average two
hundred and seventy-five per week, or fourteen thousand a

"In England and on the Continent all applications are
patented without examination into the novelty of the
inventions claimed. In some instances the instrument is
scanned to see if it covers a patentable subject matter, and
in Prussia some examination is made into the character of
the new idea; but in no case are such appliances provided,
such a corps of skilled examiners, such a provision of
drawings, models, and books, such a collection of foreign
patents, and such checks to prevent and review error, as
with us. As a result, an American patent has in our courts
a value that no foreign patent can acquire in the courts of
its own country. ...

"The foreign patents of American inventors, that have
been copies of patents previously granted in this country,
are the best that are granted abroad. Many an English or
French invention, that has been patented without difficulty
there, has been stopped in its passage through our office by
a reference to some patent previously granted in this
country. In spite of our examination, which rejects over
one-thirds of all the applications that area made, invention
has been stimulated by the hope of protection; and nearly as
many patents will issue in the United States this year as in
the whole of Europe put together; including the British
Isles. But a few days ago I took up a volume of Italian
patents, when I was amused and gratified to find on every
page the name of the universal Yankee, re-patenting there
his American invention. He is, I suspect, much the best
customer in the Patent Office of United Italy.

"We are an inventive people. Invention is by no means
confined to our mechanics. Our merchants invent, our
soldiers and our sailors invent, our school-masters invent,
our professional men invent, aye, our women and children
invent. One man, lately, wished to patent the application
of the Lord's Prayer, repeated in a loud tone of voice, to
prevent stammering; another claimed the new and useful
attachment of a weight to a cow's tail, to prevent her from
switching it while milking; another proposed to cure worms
by extracting by a delicate line and tiny hook, baited with
a seductive pill; while a lady patented a crimping-pin,
which she declared might also be used as a paper-cutter, as
a skirt-supporter, as a paper-file, as a child's pin, as a
bouquet-holder, as a shawl-fastener, or as a book-mark. Do
not suppose that this is the highest flight that the gentle
sex has achieved. It has obtained many other patents, some
of which have no relation to wearing apparel, and are of
considerable value.

"Every inventor supposes that he has a fortune in every
conception that he puts into wood and iron. Stealing
tremblingly and furtively up the steps of the Patent Office,
with his model concealed under his coat, lest some sharper
shall see it and rob him of his darling thought, he hopes to
come down those steps with the precious parchment that shall
insure him a present competency and enrich his children. If
he were offered a million in the first flush of his triumph,
he would hesitate about touching it without sleeping over it
for a night. Yet fourteen thousand millions would be a
pretty heavy bill to pay from a treasury not over full. No
commission could satisfy the inventor, and no price that we
could afford to pay would take the place of the hope of
unlimited wealth, which now lightens his toil. ... We say,
we cannot pay you in money, we will pay you in time. A new
thought developed, explained, described, put on record for
the use of the nation -- this is the one side. The right to
the exclusive benefit of this new thought, for a limited
time, and protection in that right, this on the other. This
is the patent system. A fair contract between the inventor
and the public.

"The inventor's best security is to take out a patent.

"To secure this fair dealing, we have on the one side
the Patent office, with its examiners, its drawings, its
models, its books and its foreign patents, to scan and test
the invention.

"On the other side we have the courts of law to protect
the inventor and punish the thief. It is impossible that
these instrumentalities should do their work imperfectly.
This is the American system. Under its protection great
inventions have been born, and have thriven. It has given
to the world the steamboat, the telegraph, the sewing-
machine, the hard and soft rubber. It has reconstructed the
loom, the reaping-machine, and the locomotive. It has won
from the older homes of the mechanic arts their richest
trophies, and like Columbus, who found a new world for
Castile and Leon, it has created new arts in which our
nation has neither competitive or peer."

The first Superintendent of the Patent Office was Doctor W.
Thornton, a gentleman of great attainments, who held his position
for many years. The present Commissioner of Patents is General
Mortimer D. Leggett, born of Quaker parents, in the State of New
York, fifty years ago. At an early age, he went with his parents
to the Western Reserve, Ohio. He received an academical
education, studied law, was admitted to the bar, and at twenty-
eight, was established in a flourishing business of Warren, Ohio.
Jacob D. Cox, late Secretary of the Interior, studied law with
General Leggett, and ultimately became his partner under the name
of Leggett & Cox. General Leggett afterwards filled the position
of Professor of Pleadings and Equity Jurisprudence, in the Ohio
Law College, which he occupied till 1857, and later was called to
become the Superintendent of Public Schools in the city of
Zanesville, which his management made pre-eminent among the
schools of the West. At the beginning of the war, he entered the
field at the head of the Seventy-eighth Ohio. This regiment
received its first baptism in the snow and sleet of Fort
Donelson, and was under fire there.

The executive and administrative ability of Colonel Leggett,
as shown in the discipline and condition of his regiment,
attracted the attention of General Grant, who made him Provost-
Marshal of the post. He did his work so well, that he was
repeatedly chosen again, and by the warm commendation of his
chief, was made Brigadier-General. At the battle of Shiloh, and
the siege of Corinth, General Leggett held advanced posts. In
the siege of Vicksburg, General Leggett commanded the first
brigade of Logan's Division -- the brigade which, for its gallant
service, was honored by being designated for the coveted
distinction of marching first into the captured works. Soon
after, he received command of this division, and was made Major-
General, and with it, made with Sherman, the famous "march to the

There are many young men who live to say -- that the most
genial, beneficent, and valuable influence, exerted upon them
during the toilsome campaign, and the dangerous period of
idleness in camp-life, was that of General Leggett, who ever
inspired patience by his unfailing good humor, persistent
fidelity to temperance, both by precept and lofty example. He
made many a dreary march seem like a picnic excursion; and his
quick, fearless, yet sympathetic glance, often inspired the
sinking heart at the moment of danger. Beyond this, he was a
true soldier, in caring anxiously for the comfort of his
soldiers, in enforcing rigid discipline, and in stimulating
officers and men to excel in drill and all service.
At the close of the war, General Leggett became
Superintendent and Business Manager of the engine works at
Zanesville and Newark, Ohio, the largest establishment of the
kind in the West, where he remained, till he was called by the
friend who remembered his brave services in the peril of war, --
to the administration of one of the most important branches of
the Government services in time of peace. He has already
inaugurated one of the most potent movements toward the
encouragement of the useful arts, ever made in this country --
viz: the publication in popular form, and at low rates, of the
Patent Office drawings and specifications.

General Leggett has a clear red-and-white complexion, wide,
open laughing blue eyes, and an aspect of fresh health which
amounts to youth. His frame and brain are cast in herculean
mould. He is a man of muscle, as well as mind -- the former
having been toughened by long geological foot-tramps through the
mountains of Virginia, as well as by the exposures of war, and of
an all-time active social life.

The official chair of General Leggett has not proved too much
for his better self, as it does for so many. He meets all who
approach him with a smile and kind word, apparently not
forgetting that in a republic the potentate of today may be the
supplicant of tomorrow, and that at any rate, but one man at a
time can be a Commissioner of Patents. He brings to his official
administration and decisions the same untiring industry,
intelligence, and integrity; the same broad views, clear insight
and devotion to duty, which in every previous sphere that he has
filled have made his whole life an honorable success.

With all its comprehensive cares, one side of the
Commissioner's official life tends to jollity, good digestion,
and long life. In no other position in the world, probably,
could a man discover how many crazy people there are outside of
the lunatic asylum. The born inventor is always a dreamer. For
the sake of his darling thought, he is willing to sacrifice
himself, his wife and children, every thing but the "machine"
growing in his brain and quickening under his eager hand. How
often they fail! How often the precious thought, developed into
form, is only a mistake -- a failure.

Sometimes this is sad -- quite as often it is funny. The
procession which started, far back in the ages, with its machine
of "Perpetual Motion," long ago reached the doors of the American
Patent Office. The persons found in that procession are
sometimes astounding. A doctor of divinity, well-known at the
Capital, and not suspected of studying any machinery but that of
the moral law, appeared one day in the office of the

"I know I've got it," he said

"What, sir?"

"PERPETUAL MOTION, sir. Look!" and he set down a little
machine. "If the floor were not in the way, if the earth were
not in the way, that weight would never stop, and my machine
would go on forever. I know this is original with me -- that it
never dawned before upon any other human mind."

So enthusiastic was the doctor, it was with difficulty he
could be restrained from depositing his ten dollars and leaving
the experiment to be patented. The Commissioner, quietly, sent
to the library for a book -- a history of attempts to create
Perpetual Motion. Opening at a certain page, he pointed out to
the astonished would-be inventor, where his own machine had been
attempted and failed, more than a hundred years before. The
reverend doctor took the book home, read, digested, and meditated
thereon -- to bring it back and lay it down before the
Commissioner, in silence. No one has ever heard him speak of
Perpetual Motion since.

It would take a large volume, to record all the preposterous
letters and inventions received at this office. A very short
time since, a man sent a letter to the Patent Bureau describing a
new process of embalming which he had originated. It was
accompanied by a dead baby -- "the model" which he requested
should be placed in one of the glass cases of the Exhibition
Room. He considered himself deeply injured when his request was

A letter was recently received by the Commissioner of
Patents, from a man in Portsmouth, England, offering this
Government the benefit of an invention of his own for utilizing
water-power, so as to force the water to a great height when
confined in reservoirs constructed for the purpose. He offers
the invention free of all charge, because, he states, that it
pains him to see "such mighty power as there is at the Niagara
wasted." In addition, he offers his own services at the low rate
of £1,000 per annum, to build and operate the invention. He says
in his letter, that "if the mighty great power in Niagara was
accumulated, it would move a great deal." He also states that he
"has a good plan for a velocipede and a bicycle, that he thinks
would be a good thing for this country," but admits that "people
in England don't like it."

Referring again to his water-power, he claims that if this
Government would build the road, he can take ships across the
isthmus of Panama "in a box, water and all."

The Commissioner recently received the following
communication from the Legation of the United States:

Paris, Dec. 3, 1872

"Sir: -- A very large number of inventions and
discoveries are submitted to this Legation, with the request
that we shall transmit them to Washington. Most of them
are, as you may suppose, worthless. We have had, for
instance, serious plans proposed for the extermination of
all the lions and tigers in the United States by the use of
catmint, the modus operandi being to dig an immense pit, and
fill it with this herb. The well-known love of the feline
race for catmint will naturally induce the lions and tigers
to jump into the pit and roll themselves upon it; whereupon
concealed hunters are to appear and slaughter the ferocious

"Another plan is for the destruction of grasshoppers
upon the plains by the use of artillery; it being perfectly
well known that concussion kills insects.

"A third is for the capture of a besieged city by the
use of a bomb which, upon exploding, shall emit so foul a
smell that the besieged will rush headlong from the walls,
and fall an easy prey to the besiegers."

The President of the United States receives many letters of
like character, which are by him transmitted to the Bureau of
Patents. I append verbatim copies (including orthography) of
three which represent many thousands more of equal intelligence
received at this Department of the Government.

August 31st 1872

Mr. U.S. Grant Sir it is with pleasure I take this
opportunity Of writing to You I Am well at Present Hoping
those few lines will find you enjoying Good health and
prosperity I am doing all I can for you in this locality
and I hope and expect you will be our next President of the
United States I would like to have an office of Siveliseing
the Indians What Salary will you give me per Annum please
Write to me and let me no in fact I am in need of A little
money at present Will you please send me 600 or 1000 dolors
to ----- ------ Sumthing Aught to be done for the poor
Indean And I beleave that I can sipplersse them. If you
will give me 200 or 300 per month it will doo.

March 13 1873


I announce to you that I am inventing Perpetual Motion I have
once had my paterns stolen or I should had the machine in
running order before this and I have altered my plan so that
it carrys a shaft and wheel and when constructed on a large
plan it will move machinery, And being on a new plan and
different from all others and I am sure of success which I
hope to place before the world soon. Though in consequence
of poor health and not having the means to work with it will
take some months longer to accomplish it I might write you
the plan but I am not sure that you will receive this And
now I wish to ask a few questions which I hope you will
answer by writing as soon as you receive this

1st has there been a patent granted or applied for on
perpetual motion

2nd has the Government a bounty offered to the inventor

3d when the Machine is in perfect running order and
shure that it will go without stoping will you and a man
from the Patent Office come on and grant me a patent and
fetch me the bounty if there is one.

4th is there eney way that I can have time to get the
machine completed before others can apply for a Patent

Please write soon and address -------

May 1872

HON FRIEND -- Solicitor of Patents I have invented a
secret form of writing expressly for the use of our gov in
time of warfare the publick demands it, It is different
from any other invention known to the publick in this or any
gov. It consists simply of the English alphabet and can be
changed to any form that the safety of our gov. demands it
no higherglyphicks are employed but it is practicable and
safe. I propose to sell it to our gov for the sum of one
million dollars I will meet any committee appointed to
investigate the matter. If you will give me your influence
in Congress and aid in bringing the sale of the invention
about to our gov or any other I will reward you with the sum
of ten thousand dollars (£10,000) It is no illusion or a
whim of the brain but is what I represent it to be
scientific practicable and safe, Wishing to hear from you on
the subject I remain

Yours most truly


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