History of the United States Patent Office
The Patent Office Pony
A History of the Early Patent Office
Chapter 12 -- The Rest of Dr. Thornton's Tenure
THE REST OF DR. THORNTON'S TENURE
Most of the inventors who thread through our history are relatively unknown, and sometimes the deeds we know of do not connect with a name which has come down to us. We know most of the inventors of the dramatic inventions, such as Samuel Morse, Thomas Edison, Eli Whitney and Charles Goodyear. But the man who added a cam to the bottle-making machine which pushed down on a tab to expel the bottle faster than could be done by gravity, thereby increasing its speed in making bottles by twenty percent, falls into the large group of inventors of useful machines which improve efficiency and save money but which do not dramatically affect the life of anyone. The generic inventor herein is named John Smith, with all due apologies to all those John Smiths in the world who are not John Smith.
John Smith was born in 1776, 1777, 1778, 1779, 1780, and every subsequent year. He seems to be bred more easily in America than in most other places, although he frequently arrives here from foreign shores named Johann Schmidt, Giovanni Fabrizio, or Li Wu. Here we arrive at, certainly not the first, but the first-mentioned John Smith. John Smith is so named, not because that is his name, but because we know of no other name for him.
Our first John Smith was a black man, who lived on Hempstead Plain, Long Island, New York. Of his birth, we know nothing. Of his death, we know that it occurred about 1821. Of his life, we know only that he invented the horse-drawn rake, an implement which has allowed succeeding generations of farmers to gather in their hay crops without raking the hay by hand. His invention was introduced by Michael Newbold in 1812 into Pennsylvania, where the first rake was destroyed by an angry farmhand who feared its effect on his wages. [footnote 1] But the rake itself succeeded beyond belief, spreading around the world and inspiring many improvements. John Smith did not patent his invention, probably did not profit from it, and passed into near anonymity.
In a forewarning of things to come, Postmaster General Return Jonathan Meigs wrote a letter to Dr. Thornton on December 11, 1816, [footnote 2] complaining of the danger of fire in the building they jointly occupied. The Patent Office had established a workshop in which models were painted, and the use of paint in the same room with a fireplace was considered dangerous.
William Elliot (ca 1773 - December 30, 1837) was from Carlisle, Cumberland, England. William Faux [footnote 3] wrote that Mr. Elliot had been a neighbor of Archdeacon William Paley, and Paley began his career in Carlisle. William Elliot began publishing the Washington City Gazette in January 1814, and its [Pg 69] publication continued with gaps until November 1817, under the control of Jonathan Elliot, probably his brother, also from Carlisle. William Elliot was also a surveyor and an astronomer. Mr. Elliot sold stationery and printed patent-cover sheets to the Patent Office. [footnote 4] On July 1, 1816, William Elliot was hired as a clerk in the Patent Office, probably replacing George Lyon. This position did little to limit his other professional activities. William Elliot remained a clerk in the Patent Office until his resignation on May 10, 1829. [footnote 5]
Richard Fenwick (ca 1759-March 26, 1829) was from St. Marys County, Maryland, where he was a miller from 1804 to 1812. Apparently, he had moved to Washington City by the latter part of this period. [footnote 6] He was employed as a porter by the Bank of the Metropolis. Among his children were Richard Washington Fenwick (ca 1798 - Oct 29, 1832), [footnote 7] Benjamin Fenwick (ca 1800 - December 8, 1820), [footnote 8] and Robert Welsh Fenwick (ca 1804 - January 19, 1845). [footnote 9] The Richard Fenwick who drove the wagon to transfer Patent Office papers to Dr. Thornton's farm in 1814 may have been the father or the son. Looking back, we can only say the driver could have been 16 or 55, and we cannot choose between them with certainty.
In December 1814, Benjamin Fenwick was hired to cut and pile firewood for the Patent Office. [footnote 10] Dr. Thornton later hired Benjamin as a messenger to assist him, paying him $6 per month from his personal funds. [footnote 11] Benjamin Fenwick was listed in the register of government employees [footnote 12] as of September 1816, at $72 for the year, perhaps meaning that he started work at $250 per year in mid-June 1816, or perhaps that he was actually earning $6 per month. In the register for September 1817, [footnote 13] he was earning $250 per year. The first indication that Dr. Thornton had hired him at personal expense was in a letter of September 19, 1817, [footnote 14] indicating that he had been hired at least as early as April 1817. The sum of seventy-five cents was spent in October 1817 for making a green bag for Ben to carry letters and other papers in for the Patent Office. He seems to have kept this job until replaced by his brother Robert Welsh Fenwick in April 1819. [footnote 15] Benjamin died on December 8, 1820, after an illness of twelve weeks.
[Page 69 illustration: Portrait of John Smith "best available" (back of head) ]
John Smith, or the same man going by another name, made inventions after William Elliot came to the Patent Office in 1816 and before William Thornton's death in 1828. He walked to the Patent Office from his home in Wheeling, Virginia, or perhaps it was Binghamton, New York, or [Pg 70] maybe New Bern, North Carolina, carrying a model of his improved saddle on his back because he could not afford a horse to ride. [footnote 16] Or perhaps I am mistaken and the invention was an improved plow or an apple-peeler. It is not important. He was sure he would be made rich when the public learned of his invention. He had no money to pay for a patent application. Perhaps he could sell a license for a county or even a whole state to get money to pay for the patent. If not, Dr. Thornton did not believe the patent system was set up to make money for the government, but it did nevertheless. After Dr. Thornton's death, William Elliot testified that Thornton sometimes issued patents to impoverished inventors with worthwhile inventions without the payment of any fee. [footnote 17] Apparently, the audit system was so ineffective that no one ever compared the number of patents issued with the amount of money paid into the Treasury for patents.
The Act of February 21, 1793, required a patent applicant, before petitioning the Secretary of State for a patent, to pay into the Treasury the sum of thirty dollars, to take duplicate receipts for that money, and to send one of the receipts to the Secretary of State to pay all of the expenses of the patent. This was in the days before the public wrote checks, and when even the most educated and successful men sent cash through the mail. There were Treasury offices in most major cities, so receipts could be obtained locally and sent to Washington without risk of loss. However, once the money had been paid into the Treasury, if the applicant decided that he no longer wished to obtain a patent, he required a private act of Congress to get his money refunded.
Dr. Thornton's practice differed somewhat from the law. The law did not allow the Patent Office to refuse patents for lack of novelty. There was no requirement that the applicant claim specific features of his device as the novel part of his invention. But Thornton still examined applications, comparing them with prior patents and with the large library of technology books kept for the purpose. When he found a good reference to anticipate an invention, he would write to the applicant, explaining the reference and pointing out how limited the patent on the invention would be if it were allowed to issue. Then, if the applicant still insisted on his patent, Dr. Thornton would write across the back of the issued patent the identity of the known references. However, if the applicant had already paid in full for his patent, then the applicant had no financial incentive to refuse a patent of doubtful validity. Thornton would accept cash sent to him through the mail, and, if in his opinion the application warranted a patent, he would deposit the money with the Treasury and issue the patent. Until this point, Dr. Thornton had kept the money deposited in a local bank account. [footnote 18] If Thornton convinced the applicant to withdraw his application, he could return the cash, which had [Pg 71] never been deposited in the Treasury, without the necessity of a private act passed by Congress to allow its return.
With all this cash floating around, there was a risk of loss, either in the mail, or through theft or embezzlement, or through bank failure. In 1816, Dr. Thornton had $120 in application fees stolen from his desk. [footnote 19] In 1817, Peter Arrell Browne (1782-1860), a native of Philadelphia, wrote to Acting Secretary of State Richard Rush, complaining that he had sent $30 through the mail to Thornton, which Dr. Thornton denied having received. [footnote 20] In 1834, some years after the death of Thornton, a later Superintendent was instructed to pay immediately into the U.S. Treasury all cash received by the Patent Office for payment of application fees, thus requiring a private act of Congress to return any of it to applicants. [footnote 21]
[Page 71 illustration: Portrait of George Escol Sellers]
George Escol Sellers (1809-1897), a grandson of Nathan Sellers and of Charles Willson Peale, lived in the midst of much of the nation's technological history and had a very retentive memory. [footnote 22] He wrote [footnote 23] of a trip he made by wagon with his father and Oliver Evans in 1818 when he was nine years old. Evans had spoken of difficulties facing inventive mechanics with no published records of what had preceded them. They had to start at the very foundations of mechanics and repeat work previously done by others, and often abandoned as unsuccessful, because they did not know what had been done before. Evans wanted a Mechanical Bureau set up to collect and publish all new inventions, together with reliable treatises on known areas of mechanics. He wanted a school set up to teach mechanical drawing. There was then no school in the country where a young man could go to learn any kind of engineering other than the military engineering taught at the United States Military Academy. The term civil engineering was first defined in 1818 in London, and encompassed all non-military engineering. The first school of civil engineering in America was opened in 1824. Sellers noted that Evans never lost an opportunity to impress his listeners with the feasibility of using steam, not only to navigate rivers, but also to cross oceans and continents.
Oliver Evans (1755-1819) was a man of genius, ahead of his time and ahead of his generation. He invented the steam engine from basic principles at age eighteen in 1773, [footnote 24] notwithstanding that, unknown to him, it had previously been invented by others in England and perhaps elsewhere. He published a book on the mechanics of milling [footnote 25] which was continuously in print in this [Pg 72] country until after the Civil War, for use by millers, and is still in print for use by historians. He got the third patent ever issued in this country; it was for an improved system of milling. He was informed by the judge of a United States court that a patent right for a useful improvement was an infringement of the public right. Evans wrote that when he heard this judgement, he destroyed all of his papers relating to invention [footnote 26] and went to work for his private interests and became wealthy, using the same talents which, when employed for the public interests, had kept him in poverty. [footnote 27]
[Page 72 illustration: Orukter Amphibolis]
In 1804, he built what was probably the first mechanically driven land vehicle in the United States. He was hired to build a steam-driven dredging machine for cleaning the Philadelphia docks. He built his machine as a boat, called the Orukter Amphibolis, or amphibious digger, at his shop about a mile and a half from the docks where its use was intended. As a demonstration that steam-driven land vehicles were possible, he put wheels on his boat and drove it under steam power down Market Street, in what was then the largest city in the country, then several times around Center Square and up to the banks of the Schuylkill River. He then attached a paddle wheel to the stern of the boat and powered it up the river a distance of 16 miles and back, to the amazement of thousands of spectators. [footnote 28]
But Oliver Evans' most astounding feat was not in what he did, but in indicating what he might have done if the patent laws of the day had been good enough to make it possible to try. He wrote a prophecy [footnote 29] in 1814 that "The time will come when people will travel in stages moved by steam engines, from one city to another, almost as fast as birds fly, fifteen or twenty miles in an hour. Passing through the air with such velocity, changing the scene in such rapid succession, will be the most exhilarating, delightful exercise. A carriage will set out from Washington in the morning, the passengers will breakfast in Baltimore, dine in Philadelphia, and sup at New York, the same day. To accomplish this, two sets of rail ways will be laid, so nearly level as not in any place to deviate more than two degrees from a horizontal line, made of wood or iron, or smooth paths of broken stone or gravel. with a rail to guide the carriages, so that they may pass each other in different directions, and travel by night as well as by day; and the passengers will sleep in these stages as comfortably as they now do in steam boats."
No wonder George Escol Sellers, at the age of 77, remembered clearly the [Pg 73] conversation he had with Oliver Evans when Sellers was nine. Nowadays, we sometimes package such conversations a little differently. They are now sold as science fiction, including what might someday be science. The first steam-driven passenger train came into existence 11 years later in 1825 in England.
Dr. Thornton continued in his practice of attempting to insinuate himself into association with inventors in order to benefit financially from inventions which were brought before him. The most notorious case was his revision of the application of John H. Hall in 1811 to make himself a joint inventor, [footnote 30] but there were others, including Jacob Cist, Robert Fulton, and Abel Brewster. Mr. Brewster wrote: [footnote 31] "One time I was at Washington, application was made for a patent (for what I believe was a Pipe Boiler). I understood Doctor Thornton claimed the invention; but when he was asked to produce for me evidence of his previous knowledge of it, he replied that he could describe it. To which the applicant remarked that, very likely he could, since the specification and drawings had been shown to him. . . . A story which Judge Livingston is said to relate, as a burlesque upon some of Doctor Thornton's transactions -- A man applied for a patent for making boards out of sawdust -- The Doctor said it was nothing new -- he had known it long before; But said the applicant, my invention is for making oak boards out of pine sawdust!"
Dr. Thornton had a long controversy with Michael Withers, [footnote 32] alleged inventor of a winged gudgeon, whatever that might be. There was a model of Mr. Withers' winged gudgeon in the Model Room of the Patent Office, sometimes also known as Dr. Thornton's Toy Shop. On this model, William Thornton had posted a notice [footnote 33] in his own handwriting reading: "This model is an imposition, having been deposited instead of the original which was taken from the office, by a person unknown, but strongly suspected. [signed] William Thornton March 24th 1819" Most probably the person who was suspected by Dr. Thornton was Michael Withers.
Possibly the first office ever opened in Washington for full-time practice as a patent agent was that of William Blagrove, who advertised in 1819 that he was opening an office "at the Seat of Government" to secure patents and copyrights for inventors and authors. [footnote 34] Oddly enough, no further address was given or perhaps considered necessary. Later the same year, he wrote a proposal [footnote 35] for publishing a register of inventions and patent laws, but if it was ever published, there is no record of it.
[Page 74 illustration: Portrait of John Quincy Adams]
Secretary of State John Quincy Adams wrote in his diary in April 1819 that he had received a letter from an inventor which caused him to visit the Patent Office, apparently for the first time. [footnote 36] Thornton gave him a tour of the Model Room. He wrote: "I thought how useful and profitable an occupation [Pg 74] it might be for a young man with a competent fortune, and having no other necessary pursuit in life, to take up this collection of models, to examine and make himself thoroughly master of the principles, and of the peculiar invention, or new idea, with its application, in each of them, then to classify them, to mark all those, if any there be, which contain a new principle, to examine the differences in the modifications of the same principle, then to observe and compare them with reference to their ultimate results -- what effect they produced upon the enjoyments or conveniences of human life, distinguishing those of which the ends are comprehensive and important from those which terminate in trifles. . . . Would it not be worth while, among the public institutions of the nation, to have a school for the education of a certain number of civil engineers?"
Gilbert Brewster carried out part of Secretary Adams' mandate in 1823. As Dr. Thornton later reported: "Mr. Gilbert Brewster, a very ingenious artist, from Connecticut, came to the Patent Office about the middle of October, 1823, and requested permission to examine the models. I informed him they were deposited for public inspection, and he was at liberty to see and examine them as often as he pleased. Instead of spending a few hours, he visited them daily for about six weeks; then thanked me for the gratification he had enjoyed, declaring them worth millions of dollars, or that they were of incalculable value to a real mechanician. He said he saw movements and combinations of which he had before no idea, and that he was now enabled so to improve the machinery for spinning wool, as to reduce the price of ginning from eight cents to one cent per pound. He went away, and returned in about three months, with two models, declaring, on his return, that he had perfected what he had contemplated, and that he could then spin wool at a lower price than the English, who could not effect it for less than four cents per pound. I issued three patents for his machines, and a gentleman who accompanied him from New York, and who had engaged to buy these machines for a manufacturing company in Connecticut, laid him down ten thousand dollars in my presence." [footnote 37]
In October 1819 came the beginning of something brought about by serendipity that was to have beneficial effects on the patent system and the nation to the present day. Jonas Keller (ca 1768-1830), an immigrant from Switzerland, was a skilled mechanic who had come to Washington to start a stocking [Pg 75] factory. When that failed, he worked where he could, but the returns were inadequate. A number of his acquaintances wrote to Secretary Adams [footnote 38] to recommend his employment in the Patent Office to mend and arrange the deteriorating invention models. When Dr. Thornton was asked what he thought about such an appointment, he replied that it would be a good idea but that there was no appropriation to pay for it. [footnote 39] He said when Congress was to meet in Blodgett's Hotel, the models were removed from the Model Room, then called the Museum of the Arts, into the garrets above, and then later back into the Model Room. All of this moving and piling of the models had caused many of them to be broken and injured and in much need of repair. Keller was not appointed mender of models immediately, but in November 1820 he was paid for fitting a screw to the Great Seal of the United States. [footnote 40] In August 1822, Superintendent Thornton wrote to Secretary Adams, [footnote 41] explaining the deteriorating condition of the patent models and recommending that Jonas Keller be hired to repair them. Daniel Brent, the Chief Clerk of the State Department, replied that Keller could be employed at two dollars a day until Congress met to consider the matter. [footnote 42] In an annotation to Jonas Keller's first voucher for his work, [footnote 43] Dr. Thornton noted that Mr. Keller had worked very attentively and had not only mended many of the models, but had restored a great many by new work. In January 1823, William Thornton informed Secretary Adams that Jonas Keller not only repaired the models but also exhibited them to visitors including members of Congress. [footnote 44] Not only that, "but his son, a very ingenious boy, capable of doing good work, has also been constantly employed in the office assisting him, and for his services he has not made any charge whatever." In March 1823, in another letter to Adams, [footnote 45] Thornton wrote: "Mr. Keller employed, not only his own time very faithfully and honestly, but also the time of his son, who is likewise very ingenious, and who was engaged daily, not only in assisting his father in his various duties, but also in exhibiting and explaining to the daily visitors the machines, and was more useful than I could have supposed a boy of his years could have been." Mr. Keller's son was Charles Michael Keller (ca 1809-1874), who at this time was about thirteen years old. As will be seen later, it is the early and prolonged interest of Charles M. Keller in the Patent Office that provides that serendipity. Much more will be heard from this boy as a man.
In July 1820, Nathan Sellers of the firm of Nathan and David Sellers, he who some 44 years earlier had been excused from the Revolutionary Army to make wire screens for paper-making, he who was grandfather to George Escol Sellers, applied for a patent for a joint invention of him and his late brother David. [footnote 46] The invention was for a rolling wire screen to clean grains, particularly [Pg 76] rice, as well as sand, shot, and other items. This was soon issued to Nathan Sellers, on his own behalf and as administrator for his late brother. [footnote 47]
In an aside to a controversy between William Thornton and Joseph Hawkins, William Elliot wrote to Mr. Hawkins in 1823, [footnote 48] indicating that it took about three weeks from receipt of an application for patent until the specification would be copied in due course and be ready for signature. This was considered too much time by the applicants of the day.
In August 1823, William Parker Elliot (ca 1807-1854), one of the sons of William Elliot, submitted a voucher [footnote 49] for his services in the Patent Office during the last quarter. He later indicated that he had been doing copying work in the Patent Office since 1817.
[Page 76 illustration: Portrait of Peter Arrell Browne]
By 1824, a mechanic's institute had been formed in Philadelphia along the lines proposed by Oliver Evans to George Escol Sellers and others before his death in 1819. This was the Franklin Institute of the State of Pennsylvania for the Promotion of the Mechanic Arts, usually called the Franklin Institute. In March 1824, on its behalf, Peter A. Browne, corresponding secretary, wrote a letter to William Thornton explaining its goals and asking for favorable terms for obtaining informal copies of patents being issued for publication in its journal. [footnote 50] Despite the Attorney General's decision in 1809 [footnote 51] that copies of issued patents should be available upon request, Thornton replied that he would resist providing copies of unexpired patents except where required by a law suit or when authorized by the patentee. [footnote 52] He noted that for copies which were made by the Patent Office, the statute required payment of 20 cents per 100 words, although others outside the office might be engaged to copy them at a lower price. In early 1825, Mr. Browne wrote to Thornton again, [footnote 53] asking if he would still refuse to provide copies of specifications of patents until their expiration. When he did not receive a reply within nine days, he wrote a second, rather insulting letter to Thornton demanding a reply, which set the tone for their later dealings, if it had not already been set by his 1817 correspondence. [footnote 54] Thornton noted in a reply [footnote 55] that he received the original and the second letter on the same day, and that their delay was occasioned by the fact that Mr. Browne had not prepaid the postage, thereby requiring their delivery to the Secretary of State, who alone had the franking privilege. He objected to being insulted and replied that his earlier [Pg 77] letter still expressed his intentions. Browne apologized vaguely, [footnote 56] indicating that when he wrote his letter he had every reason to believe Thornton was being incivil to him in not answering his letter promptly, but following the explanation, he regretted having used the offensive expressions. He did not apologize for assuming that offense was intended on such slender evidence. Dr. Thornton was exasperating to deal with, and Peter Browne was too petulant to succeed in dealing with him.
Mr. Browne then wrote to Secretary Adams [footnote 57] before receipt of Thornton's reply, asking that the copies be furnished to the Franklin Institute and without charge. He waited over two weeks before sending a follow-up letter to Mr. Adams. [footnote 58] Daniel Brent, Chief Clerk of the State Department, soon wrote to Mr. Browne, acknowledging receipt of the letters "by direction of the Secretary" and added that they would be attended to as soon as the Secretary found time from his more important duties. [footnote 59] Within less than a month, and soon after the inauguration of John Quincy Adams as President, Mr. Browne wrote a letter to the new Secretary of State, Henry Clay, [footnote 60] filing charges that the persons having the care of the Patent Office were grossly ignorant of the law relating to the office, were grossly partial in the exercise of their official duties, and were grossly inconsistent in their official conduct. Mr. Browne wrote two weeks later to Mr. Adams as President, [footnote 61] repeating his charges, including the charge that he had written to Dr. Thornton in January and Thornton would not even answer his letters. This was done after his half-hearted apology to Thornton for making the same charge. Then he indicated his belief that since Mr. Clay had not responded to his charges, he had not been permitted to see them. Secretary Clay replied [footnote 62] that he had seen the letters, but that pressure of official business had prevented him from personally answering them. He said that if Mr. Browne had proof of his charges, he should transmit it.
Most of these charges have little in them of lasting interest. Mr. Browne filed his full set of charges in four days, [footnote 63] and in another four days William Thornton filed his reply [footnote 64] characterizing the charges, probably correctly, as malevolent and denying all the charges.
Secretary Clay requested an opinion from Attorney General William Wirt [footnote 65] on whether the law required the Patent Office to furnish a copy of an unexpired patent to a member of the public who demanded it, and whether such copies could be furnished by the office at a cost of less than 20 cents per 100 words. Mr. Wirt replied that the Patent Office was not required to furnish copies to anyone who demanded them, but that the sound discretion of the State Department could be used to determine when they ought to be furnished. He also wrote that it would not be legal for copies to be issued [Pg 78] from the Patent Office at less than the rate required by the statute, which was 20 cents per 100 words. [footnote 66]
[Page 78 illustration: Portrait of Henry Clay]
Apparently, no reply was provided to Peter Browne concerning the charges of ignorance, partiality and inconsistency. Mr. Clay did provide a copy of Mr. Wirt's opinion to Peter Browne. [footnote 67] Mr. Browne wrote with unusual propriety and restraint to Secretary Clay, [footnote 68] including a copy of an opinion by eminent Philadelphia lawyers Horace Binney and John Sergeant. [footnote 69] Upon consideration of the Binney and Sergeant opinion, Henry Clay decided in September 1825 to exercise his discretion and allow the Franklin Institute to obtain copies of unexpired patents. [footnote 70]
The present generation in and around the Patent Office could not imagine a reason why a person about to manufacture an article in the United States would not be allowed to see any patent in existence, expired or unexpired, to determine what the law said his rights were. Failure of the Patent Office to allow copies of unexpired patents so that a manufacturer might avoid violation of these patents is nearly equivalent to failure of the government to allow an individual to have a copy of the statutes so that he might avoid violation of these statutes. We owe the availability of these patents, at least in part, to the persistence, if not to the petulance, of Peter Arrell Browne. In early 1826, Dr. Thomas P. Jones began the publication of the Journal of the Franklin Institute, which gave abstracts or sometimes full text of recently issued patents, together with Dr. Jones' penetrating analysis of the value of the new inventions or lack thereof. For the first time, information on recently issued patents which had previously been available only in the Model Room of the Patent Office was available for the price of a subscription anywhere in the country.
In July 1825, the Patent Office got its own horse, having previously been dependent upon use of the State Department horse. Robert Welsh Fenwick was paid $10 per month for keeping the Patent Office pony, beginning August 1, 1825. [footnote 71] Later, in April 1826, an iron gray horse was purchased for use by the Patent Office at a cost of seventy dollars. [footnote 72] In June 1827, Robert Welsh Fenwick was paid $2.50 for his expenses in trying to recover the Patent Office horse, which had been stolen. [footnote 73] In August, he was paid $5.00 for his expenses in recovering the horse from W. Maul. [footnote 74] The Patent Office pony was thus stolen and recovered three months later.
Alexander M. McIntire was appointed as a temporary clerk in March 1827 to assist in copying issued patents into record books as had long been required by law, but which had not been done for lack of clerical force. [footnote 75] He had earlier been employed as a copyist on a daily basis as early as the spring of 1825. [footnote 76] He was to feature in some later controversy in the Patent Office.
In early March 1828, John McLean of the Post Office Department wrote to Secretary of State Henry Clay, stating that the Post Office Department had grown so much that it needed Blodgett's Hotel for its exclusive use, and suggesting that the Patent Office be moved to the Old Brick Capitol, which had been erected for the temporary use of Congress as it moved out of Blodgett's Hotel after the 1814 burning of Washington. [footnote 77] Mr. Clay replied that while the Patent Office was attached to the State Department, it was inconvenient to have it located at a great distance from the rest of the department, as it would be if so moved. He indicated that he would support the creation of a Home Department to include the Patent Office, which would allow more flexibility in its location. [footnote 78] Blodgett's Hotel would soon be enlarged to secure the necessary room.
The Model Room became a popular tourist attraction. One German duke wrote of his tour in 1826, conducted by Jonas Keller, explaining in detail the kinds of models he found and his perception of the value of the various inventions. [footnote 79]
On March 28, 1828, Dr. William Thornton, Superintendent of the Patent Office since 1802, died at his home in Washington, D.C., following a long but relatively painless illness. In the first five years of issuing patents in the United States, an average of 20 patents per year were issued. In the five years immediately before Dr. Thornton entered the Patent Office, it averaged 45. In his first five years in office, Dr. Thornton averaged 73. In his last five years, the office over which he presided issued an average of 304 patents per year. When hired, his salary was $1,400 per year. After seventeen years, it had been raised to $1,500 per year. It was still $1,500 per year when he died. He was very near the end of his life before he stopped complaining about his salary.
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