History of the United States Patent Office
The Patent Office Pony
A History of the Early Patent Office
Chapter 21 -- Last Years under the State Department

[Pg 121]

Commissioner Ellsworth remained in office longer than he had originally intended because he felt obliged to see the Patent Office back on its feet after the fire of 1836. In fact, he remained in office longer than some people thought he would. In 1841, thinking that Ellsworth was about to leave office, Mr. Ruggles, now a lawyer in private practice in Thomaston, Maine, wrote a letter to Secretary of State Daniel Webster applying for the position of Commissioner of Patents. [footnote 1] He had guaranteed notes for friends who had defaulted, and he was now near broke. He reminded Mr. Webster of his long career in public service, filling a series of jobs that he had not sought. He said that this was the first such job he had ever sought. He reminded Mr. Webster that he had written the very patent act which governed the operations of the Patent Office. But Mr. Ellsworth did not leave office for another four years, and Mr. Ruggles never became Commissioner of Patents.

When Henry Ellsworth resigned from the Patent Office on April 1, 1845, [footnote 2] he became Land Commissioner of the United States in Lafayette, Indiana. There he bought tracts of land and became the largest landowner and farmer in the area. He was a strong advocate of agricultural machinery, and he used what was probably the first mowing machine used on the prairies. When his health failed, he returned to Connecticut in 1857 and died a year later.

[Page 121 illustration: Portrait of Edmund Burke]

The second Commissioner of Patents was Edmund Burke (1809-1882), who was a lawyer and newspaper publisher in New Hampshire and from 1839 to 1845 was a member of Congress from New Hampshire. After he lost an election, he was offered the position of Commissioner in the place of Henry Ellsworth. He took office on May 5, 1845.

The first problem of Commissioner Burke was a workload in the Patent Office which exceeded the capacity of the examiners to do the work promptly. He ordered examiners to work ten hours a day until the work was current. [footnote 3] However, it seems that increasing the hours of labor did not increase and may have reduced the amount of work done. [footnote 4] Soon afterwards, two examiners were added to the staff of the office. It was noted that the business of the office was increasing at the rate of thirty percent per year, and many more new examiners would probably be needed.

[Page 122 illustration: Portrait of Titian R. Peale]
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One of the new examiners was to be Titian Ramsay Peale (1799-1885), the youngest son of Charles Willson Peale. He was, incidentally, the second son of his father named Titian, the first Titian having died shortly before our Titian was born. Presumably, if you have decided to name all of your children after painters, the name Titian is too good to lose. At the time of his appointment to the Patent Office, he had been in the service of the country, off and on, for about fourteen years. [footnote 5] In 1818, while yet a teenager, he entered Stephen H. Long's exploring expedition to the Rocky Mountains as an artist and assistant naturalist to record what they found. This expedition lasted two years, much of the time without tent or rations. He was with the Charles Wilkes naval exploring expedition, formed in 1836, until it was completed. He suffered shipwreck in that expedition, but brought back much of the material which was later exhibited in the National Gallery at the Patent Office. He was a member in very good standing of the Franklin Institute. He had a background in museum work from his father's Philadelphia Museum. He had at one time been curator of that museum, which was failing by this time, and he had earlier hoped to be a curator of the Patent Office museum, but that was not to be. He was one of the earliest photographers in the country and was engaged as a daguerreotype-maker in Philadelphia in 1845, when he had a run-in with a gang of thieves associated with Jim Webb, to be heard from shortly. [footnote 6]

Titian R. Peale applied for a position as a principal examiner in 1848, but there were only four such positions. One of his earliest letters of recommendation to Commissioner Burke for the position of examiner was from Alexander Dallas Bache, who was a great-grandson of Benjamin Franklin and the Superintendent of the United States Coast Survey. However, Mr. Bache recommended him for a position as an assistant examiner rather than principal examiner, much to Mr. Peale's surprise. [footnote 7] Bache quickly corrected that by an additional letter. [footnote 8] The amount of influence brought to bear upon the problem of getting a low-level government job is unbelievable by today's standards. Mr. Peale had Professor Joseph Henry of the Smithsonian Institution drop in personally to recommend him to Commissioner Burke and was having all of the influence of the Franklin Institute brought to the problem, but he was afraid that Lieutenant Joseph D. Webster, who was a protege of Gen. Lewis [Pg 123] Cass, the 1848 Democratic candidate for President, would have better connections.

[Page 123 illustration: Portrait of Thomas Ewing]

While his application was pending, Mr. Peale heard that assistant examiner Thomas G. Clinton had filed charges against Mr. Burke. Indeed, this was so, because Mr. Burke had suspended examiner Clinton pending his removal, and then when he was removed had refused to pay him his salary during the period of suspension. Dr. Clinton then appealed to the President, and Secretary of State James Buchanan sided with Dr. Clinton as to his right to receive pay during the suspension period. [footnote 9]

Titian Peale was offered an appointment as assistant examiner, and he initially declined it, even though he had no other prospects. [footnote 10] However, on advice of Joseph Henry and others, [footnote 11] he did accept the position in August 1848. [footnote 12] By May 1849, Peale was settled in and liked his duties, but found his salary insufficient to overcome debts. He had received his first confirmation of a rumor that Commissioner Burke was about to leave by seeing packing boxes lined up in front of his room. [footnote 13]

Prior to 1848, patents could issue on any day, but beginning in early 1848 and continuing to date, patents have issued at noon every Tuesday, and only on Tuesday, come fire, flood, war, riot, or national holiday.

On March 11, 1848, Journal of the Franklin Institute editor-for-life Thomas P. Jones gave up his editorship at death. The journal continued despite loss of its first editor.

As far back as 1812, some officials had advocated a Home Department in the Government to handle non-foreign affairs, leaving the State Department to handle foreign affairs. It was to comprise territorial governments, national highways and canals, the General Post Office, the Patent Office, and the Indian Affairs Office. [footnote 14] A Home Department was founded by the Act of March 3, 1849. Its first Secretary was Thomas Ewing, and its name was the Interior Department by early April. The 1849 act also appropriated $600,000 to complete the east wing of the Patent Office Building, of which $250,000 was to come from the Patent Fund. The Patent Office was placed within the Home Department, and the Home Department, lacking a building of its own, moved into the Patent Office Building and began elbowing for space.

The conflict between the Patent Office and the Interior Department for space in the building continued for many years and would continue to cause hard feelings among the nation's inventors and their representatives.
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The residents of Texas declared independence from Mexico in 1836, and by October the residents, mostly settlers from the United States, had established a permanent government for the Republic of Texas. But Texans were missing something from the old country. The Texas Congress passed, and on January 28, 1839, President Mirabeau Bonapart Lamar signed into law an act securing patent rights to inventors. Texas patents were available only to a Texas citizen or one who had legally declared an intention to become a citizen. The inventor had to come into the Texas Patent Office in person to make his application. The law was administered by the Chief Clerk of the Texas State Department, who was head of the Patent Bureau. A detailed description of the invention was required, including either a drawing or a model of the invention. A report was made by Chief Clerk Nathaniel Amory of the Texas Department of State to David G. Burnet, acting Texas Secretary of State, on November 6, 1839, [footnote 15] reporting that six patents had been granted by that time. When the Republic of Texas was admitted to the Union as the State of Texas in 1845, no provision was made for transfer of Texas patents to the United States Government. In the Annual Report for 1846, Commissioner Burke objected to the failure of Congress to provide for the transfer of records and patent rights. But apparently no such provision was ever made.

[Page 124 illustration: Portrait of Dr. John Gorrie]

Dr. John Gorrie was a practicing physician in Apalachicola, Florida, in the late 1840s. He frequently treated fever cases, and in the hot and humid environment of the South, only ice, imported by ship from the North, could reduce fever and give the patient an opportunity to recover. But ice was not always available, and some patients did not recover. Dr. Gorrie learned how to make ice using mechanical energy to drive a compressor. In April 1848, he went upriver from New Orleans to Cincinnati to have an ice machine made according to his invention at the Cincinnati Iron Works. This was in the days long before the use of freon or even ammonia in the compressor, so Dr. Gorrie ran his machine by compressing air. Although it worked, it did not work efficiently. Dr. Gorrie received an English patent for his invention in 1850, and on May 6, 1851, he got U.S. Patent No. 8,080. Dr. Gorrie had sold 75 percent of his invention to finance the construction of the large-scale working model, and when his partner died without a will, Gorrie's invention was left in limbo. When Dr. Gorrie died in 1855, his invention was forgotten for years -- but not lost. [footnote 16]

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