History of the United States Patent Office
The Patent Office Pony
A History of the Early Patent Office
Chapter 14 -- Superintendent John D. Craig Inspires Protest

[Pg 84]

The next Superintendent of the Patent Office was Dr. John D. Craig (1766-1846), who was born in Ireland. There is a report from a frequently unreliable source [footnote 1] that although he was born in Ireland, his father was an American. The source and subject of his doctorate have not been discovered. In 1810, John and John D. Craig, perhaps father and son, were teachers at the Baltimore Union School. [footnote 2] From at least 1817 through 1824, John D. Craig was master of an academy in McClellan's Alley, Baltimore. [footnote 3]

In 1828, Dr. Craig gave a speech which led to the foundation of the Ohio Mechanics' Institute in Cincinnati, [footnote 4] which still exists in the OMI College of Applied Science of the University of Cincinnati. When he left the Patent Office in 1835, Dr. Craig returned to OMI as superintendent and librarian.

Thomas P. Jones was transferred to consular correspondence on June 10, 1829, and the following day John D. Craig became Superintendent. He immediately investigated the improprieties of his predecessors. He compared the number of patents issued in the past with the amount credited to the Treasury for the necessary fees. He found a shortage of over $4,000 occurring between 1815 and 1827. He requested explanations of the shortage from the widowed Mrs. William Thornton and from William Elliot and Robert Welsh Fenwick. All responded, but no satisfactory explanation was provided. [footnote 5] Some patents may have been issued to poor inventors without payment of fees. William Elliot said William Thornton did not believe it was the purpose of the patent system to amass revenue. Other patents may have been issued by mistake without payment of a fee. Mrs. Thornton brought her diaries into the State Department to show that they lived on a very small amount of money inconsistent with embezzlement. Dr. Craig said he did not intend to investigate the origin of the anomalies. He intended to prevent it from happening again by requiring a Treasury receipt to be attached to each proposed patent when reviewed by the Attorney General. The anomalies were never reconciled.

Early in the Jackson administration, while Dr. Jones was still Superintendent, Charles Bulfinch Jr. (1794-ca 1860), son of the departing Architect of the Capitol, began as a clerk in the Patent Office. By January 1, 1830, Dr. Craig was complaining to Secretary Van Buren that Bulfinch did only about 40 percent of the copying per day that a competent clerk should do. [footnote 6] Three years later, Dr. Craig was still complaining of the frequent absences and poor performance by Mr. Bulfinch. [footnote 7] By June 1833, Dr. Craig charged Bulfinch with dereliction of duty, claiming that poor health, real or imaginary, and bad eyesight left him unable to perform his ordinary duties. [footnote 8] [Pg 85] Bulfinch replied, [footnote 9] denying that he was in poor health or that his eyesight was worse than others who wore glasses. He blamed his reduced production on his assignment to copy specifications onto parchment for issuing patents, which he considered more time-consuming than copying onto paper. By July, Bulfinch had been discharged, but a suspension of the order of discharge was allowed for a short time to allow Secretary McLane to review the order. [footnote 10] Bulfinch actually left office on November 30. [footnote 11] This left Dr. Craig free to appoint as his replacement, William Tell Steiger, a highly regarded former student, to be heard from later.

In apparently the first annual report on the condition of the Patent Office in December 1829, [footnote 12] Dr. Craig reported that new quarters for the Patent Office in Blodgett's Hotel were being constructed and furnished. He had by this time at least partly established the first regular system for arranging models and drawings by subject matter. He was dissatisfied that issued patents had not been properly copied into record books as required by statute.

In his annual report on the condition of the Patent Office made January 1, 1831, [footnote 13] Dr. Craig wrote that the Patent Office quarters in the new section of the expanded Blodgett's Hotel had been furnished at a cost of $4,600. Craig wanted a machine shop for the Patent Office to be built on the second floor of the Engine House adjoining the Patent Office, but the act of Congress authorizing the building had authorized it exclusively for the engine, its apparatus, and the meetings of the Fire Engine Company. Dr. Craig considered the Engine House to be badly situated for use by the Fire Company and suggested a new building be erected in a convenient nearby location, allowing the old Engine House to be turned over to the Patent Office. He also indicated that only 900 of the 6,371 patents issued to date had been properly recorded by copying them into record books as required by law and suggested hiring ten clerks for two years to bring the recording up to date.

In an annual report made on December 2, 1831, [footnote 14] Dr. Craig indicated that all papers, drawings and models in the Patent Office were then classified and arranged so that what was sought could be found quickly. Apparently, this was the first time that the inventions available in the Patent Office were well classified by subject matter. In another annual report made January 1, 1834, [footnote 15] Dr. Craig indicated his belief that the framers of the patent laws did not intend them to be a source of revenue, but nevertheless, the Patent Office had generated and paid into the Treasury $110,000 in excess of its costs over the years. Dr. Craig wanted the money spent to build a suitable fireproof building for the Patent Office.

In the late winter and early spring of 1831, a number of clerks were appointed to copy the old patents into record books as required by the Act [Pg 86] of 1793. One of the clerks so appointed was William Augustus Weaver (1797-1846), a former naval officer. He said that all of the clerks were housed in a barn of a room, without seats, entirely unheated in the depths of winter, at times with snow on the ground. Captain Weaver asked Craig that they be provided with fire and said he "was denied rudely and churlishly." He next asked Secretary Livingston, who then came to the Patent Office, indicated where stoves were to be put, and provided the necessary funds to Dr. Craig. Craig refused to provide the stoves, even after being ordered to do so by the Secretary of State and provided with the necessary money. He dismissed three copy clerks for not performing their work well under these conditions. [footnote 16]

An examination of the record shows that Dr. Craig accomplished a lot during his tenure, but he was arrogant, subject to rages, disagreeable to patent applicants and their agents, and a domineering tyrant toward the subordinate employees in the Patent Office. This was a man who, if he observed someone pouring oil on troubled waters, would set fire to the oil. His chief clerk was Alexander McIntire, who was considered the complete toady, and who was nicknamed "Iago" by his fellow employees. [footnote 17]

Dr. Thornton and Dr. Jones would read all incoming patent applications in order to locate applications pending before the Patent Office at the same time and which claimed the same invention, which were called interfering applications. All of these interfering applications were referred to arbitrators to determine which applications should be issued. Thornton and Jones had also attempted to mitigate the faults of the patent law by notifying an applicant of known prior art which would anticipate the invention disclosed in the application, then giving the applicant the choice of withdrawing his application and having his application fee returned if he wished to avoid having an unenforceable patent issued, or of insisting upon his patent in accordance with the law even though the Superintendent suggested otherwise. This help was not required by the Act of 1793, but was done to prevent uninformed applicants from wasting money and expectations on unenforceable patents. Dr. Craig would not even read the applications. [footnote 18] Copying clerks who were assigned to copy specifications onto parchment for use in the issued patent sometimes found the applicants' specifications illegible and uncopyable, showing clearly that they could not have been read. And indeed Dr. Craig said that he did not take the trouble to read specifications. He believed interferences could occur only between applications which were filed or put in condition for allowance on the same day, which virtually never happened. Five years into his tenure, Dr. Craig had never submitted any applications to arbitration for interference. [footnote 19] Craig believed that if an application was filed with all the proper papers and with the fees paid, a patent should [Pg 87] issue, even if its contents were nonsense. The Act of 1793 intended that the courts should sort out such matters, not the Patent Office, and Dr. Craig had no intention of doing more work at the Patent Office than the law required.

On October 23, 1833, about a month before the departure of Charles Bulfinch from the Patent Office, Dr. Craig wrote a letter to a former student, William Tell Steiger (1801-1888) of Baltimore, asking if he wanted to work at $800 per year as a clerk in the Patent Office. [footnote 20] Steiger was a former student of Dr. Craig, and was losing money in the leather and hide business in Baltimore. Dr. Craig had high regard for Steiger's ability. When Steiger wrote back to ask about the conditions of employment, Craig replied that office hours were from 9 to 3 o'clock, and that applicants frequently wanted drawings prepared for their applications, which Steiger could do out of office hours and might "realize something considerable" from doing so. [footnote 21] Craig recommended his appointment on November 8 to Secretary McLane, [footnote 22] calling him "a gentleman profoundly acquainted with mathematical and mechanical science, and in all respects well qualified to perform the duties of draftsman and clerk." Steiger began work on December 2. [footnote 23]

There are only scattered records of the history of the Patent Office during this period, but through a quirk of history the career of William Tell Steiger in the Patent Office can be seen exceedingly well. Steiger married Maria Shriver of the successful and politically active Shriver family of Maryland. He wrote frequent letters to his father-in-law, Andrew Shriver of Union Mills, Maryland, explaining what was going on in his career. The Shriver family preserved its vast correspondence and donated it to the Maryland Historical Society. Within a month of his appointment, Steiger was in competition with William P. Elliot for the private drafting business around the Patent Office. [footnote 24]

Since his father's departure from the Patent Office, William Parker Elliot had been allowed his own drafting table in the Patent Office, where he made copies of drawings for the Patent Office and made both original and copy drawings for private parties. He probably also wrote patent applications for private parties by this time. He was not an employee of the Patent Office but was paid by all parties, including the Patent Office, for work actually done. He claimed in June 1833 that he was never paid more than $600 per year by the Patent Office. [footnote 25] Dr. Craig wanted authority to have the office drawing copies made only by an employed clerk, and he wrote several times to Secretaries Livingston and McLane for permission to give that work only to regularly employed clerks. Louis McLane directed in October 1833 that this should be done. [footnote 26] When Craig got rid of Bulfinch and had Steiger, a competent draftsman, in place beginning December 2, he immediately acted. By December 12, he had ordered Elliot to give up his drawing table, had been refused, and [Pg 88] had written to Secretary McLane for directions. McLane informed him on December 16 that if the table was the property of the office, it was his to control. McLane reiterated that no clerk could be employed for his own private profit to prepare papers to be used by applicants or to copy papers on record in the Patent Office. [footnote 27] On the same day, McLane sent a set of charges of malfeasance and incompetence to Dr. Craig which Elliot had already filed against Craig. [footnote 28] And the battle was joined.

Steiger reported to his father-in-law [footnote 29] on January 4, 1834, that Elliot still held his table at the office and executed drawings for patent applicants. By March, Steiger, who was naturally a partisan for Craig, wrote a detailed letter to Andrew Shriver, giving him an explanation of the controversy in the office from a side not seen in the official record. [footnote 30]

According to Steiger, he was making drawings for applicants in his spare time, as Dr. Craig had promised him when he was hired. Secretary McLane had issued an order prohibiting it, but Dr. Craig told Steiger there was nothing in the law to prohibit it. Elliot wrote a letter to the Secretary, complaining that Steiger was doing drawings outside the office (and in competition with him). After Elliot filed charges against Craig, Craig demanded a hearing. When the hearing was not offered promptly, he sued Elliot for slander and libel. When President Jackson heard of the suit, he told the Secretary to order the removal of Elliot from the office and to make arrangements for the hearing. Steiger wrote that the questions put in the hearing were entirely irrelevant to the charges. At first he refused to answer questions concerning his out-of-office work, but he answered after receiving express orders to do so from Secretary McLane. He wrote that if he were fired, he could earn more money in the time now spent working for the Patent Office by doing private drawings for the applications of inventors. He thought that Elliot was an insincere and false man who was a tool of someone else, perhaps Dr. Jones. He thought that Dr. Craig was a favorite of President Jackson, since Jackson had ordered that the evidence should come before him and that justice be done to Dr. Craig.

According to the official record, [footnote 31] depositions of everyone associated with the Patent Office and several outsiders were taken from February 12 through 24, 1834 by Aaron Ogden Dayton (d. 1858), the officer appointed by the Secretary to take the evidence. Findings were presented on March 15 by Mr. Dayton to the Secretary. Craig asked that Mr. McIntire be allowed to represent him in the hearings and that he not be required to attend. Charles M. Keller, the son of Jonas Keller who had been an unpaid youthful repairer of models in the 1822 Patent Office, was by now the machinist of the Patent Office after the death of Jonas. Machinist Charles Keller testified that [Pg 89] Senator Gabriel Moore had complained to him of being treated rudely by Superintendent Craig. He also stated that there were pieces of models which could not be identified, for which no drawings could be found, which may not have ever been patented, and which could not be repaired. These pieces had been around since his father was machinist. Dr. Craig ordered the destruction of the pieces, and Keller willingly destroyed them until ordered to stop, since he could think of absolutely no reason for keeping the pieces.

Another witness was Henry Bishop, successor to Robert Welsh Fenwick as messenger of the Patent Office. He testified that he had heard visitors complain of rudeness toward them by Dr. Craig, and that he had also heard Dr. Craig complain of rudeness toward him by visitors. He thought that Dr. Craig was very diligent in carrying out his duties. Bishop said that Elliot had once complained that, although Dr. Jones had been an attentive Superintendent, he had taken fees that were improper. He also said that since the falling out between Craig and Elliot, Elliot and Jones seem to have become much better friends than formerly.

Dr. Jones testified that Craig would not declare arbitrations and indeed would not even read the specifications of patents he was about to issue. He also said that Craig had told him that the order of the Secretary of State forbidding clerks from executing drawings for individuals for their private profit was a tyrannical order. Steiger and Weaver testified to matters as mentioned above, then Alexander McIntire testified in general defense of Dr. Craig.

Mr. Dayton found that Dr. Craig had indeed failed to declare interferences where it should have been done, that he had discontinued keeping the Caveat Book without which it would be impossible to carry out his duties properly, that he had unnecessarily and imprudently allowed correspondence of the office to be destroyed which had been preserved by previous Superintendents, that he had clearly been rude toward visitors (as had even been observed personally by Dayton in the course of his investigation), that he had given applicants incorrect information from a misunderstanding of the law, that he had been inattentive to duty in not reading specifications before issuing patents, that he was charging a higher price than allowed by law for copies of drawings, and that he allowed Steiger to make drawings out-of-office for private profit in violation of the Secretary's order, which he called tyrannical.

Secretary McLane wrote a letter to John D. Craig on March 28, 1834, [footnote 32] to tell him that there was much in his conduct which was deserving of censure, but that he would refrain at the present from doing more than to order him to correct certain enumerated deficiencies or be subject to removal. William P. Elliot wanted to know the result of his charges, and he asked for a copy [Pg 90] of the report on April 1, which was refused a few days later, although Elliot was given a copy of the March 28 letter to Craig. [footnote 33] Elliot then wrote directly to President Jackson, who instructed McLane to refuse. [footnote 34] Perhaps the President thought that would end the matter, but it did not. Apparently, Elliot reached someone in the Senate and persuaded the Senate to request that copies of the entire proceedings be forwarded there. This should not have been difficult, knowing that among those people whom Dr. Craig honored with his rudeness was Senator Gabriel Moore. The copies were forwarded and printed, but Jackson would not forgive William P. Elliot this insult to his authority.

Apparently, Alexander McIntire filed for relief under the Insolvency Laws [footnote 35] and was notified in July 1834 that he was to be dismissed from the Patent Office. [footnote 36] The real reason may have been different. He was removed in August, obviously contrary to the desires of Craig.

His replacement, appointed contrary to the desires of Dr. Craig, was Dr. Robert Mayo (1784-1864), a physician and author from Richmond, Virginia. He was a Jackson supporter, having edited the Jackson Democrat in Richmond during the 1828 campaign. He later came to Washington as a civil servant. Upon learning of his appointment, Dr. Craig wrote him a welcome-to-the-office letter, stating that Mayo had been said to have a disagreeable temper, to try constantly to undermine and supplant others, and to be a very inferior clerk. [footnote 37] It seems to have been generally believed that Mayo was a spy planted by Jackson in the Patent Office to find out what was happening.

The quarrel continued. William P. Elliot went to the Patent Office to inspect some recently issued patents. When he asked Dr. Craig for access, Dr. Craig remained silent. He then sought access from Steiger, who told him that he could not speak to him. Elliot wrote to Secretary John Forsyth to complain. [footnote 38] Elliot was soon filing new charges against the Patent Office that Dr. Craig was allowing William Tell Steiger to make drawings for private payment. Mr. Steiger in fact made $600 for private drawing in 1834. [footnote 39] By January 1835, Dr. Craig was filing charges against Mayo, accusing him of being a spy for William P. Elliot and of having filed for relief under the Insolvency Laws. [footnote 40]

If you are getting tired of this bickering, you can see why the Secretary of State, undoubtedly with the approval of President Jackson, notified John D. Craig that he was dismissed. This was said to be because of his expressed belief that the rule forbidding clerks to receive money for assisting applicants was tyrannical. [footnote 41] Steiger regretted that the poor old man had been dismissed and thought it highly probably that he would soon be dismissed himself. His one consolation was that Dr. Mayo had been dismissed at the same time. [footnote 42]

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