History of the United States Patent Office
The Patent Office Pony
A History of the Early Patent Office
Chapter 31 -- The End of the First Century of the Patent Office

[Pg 193]

Printing patents had an interesting and lasting effect on the furniture which was required by the Patent Office. Before patent drawings were printed, examiners, while searching patents, had to look at the original drawings in the draftsman's office in large portfolio cases, such as those shown in the illustration from 1869 on page 173. There were 777 folio cases of original drawings which were safely removed from the draftsman's office in the fire of 1877. But when the drawings, and especially the entire patents, were printed, they were available for search in the examiners' rooms and soon in the new public search room. The necessary new filing system was provided by the shoe cases still in use in today's Patent and Trademark Office. The origin of the term shoe is lost, although every patent examiner knows where his shoes are. Some have attributed the term to Thomas Jefferson, suggesting that he stored his patents in shoe boxes. But we know that the drawings kept in the Patent Office in the preprinting days were of varying sizes and were kept in portfolios from the earliest days. Shoes, as we know them, could only have arisen after all patents were available in small, uniform sizes and could be kept in small, uniform boxes. A complete inventory of the moveable property in the Patent Office was made in 1870, [footnote 1] including numerous portfolio cases, portfolio racks, portfolio drawers, and cases for models, 22,000 volumes of books and 300 spittoons, but no shoes. Augustus Burgdorf, livery stable operator, undertaker and cabinet-maker of Washington, sold portfolios and cases to the Patent Office in 1878. [footnote 2] The first known mention of shoes was on March 28, 1879, when he sold shoe drawers to the Patent Office for $115. [footnote 3] What were called shoe drawers would now be called shoes. Among the many possible origins of the term is that preferred by your guide. Perhaps file cabinets suitable for holding bundles of patents while allowing easy access to search through them were already available before they were needed. Perhaps shoe shops of the day kept their supply of ready-made shoes in wood cabinets containing numerous drawers of just the right size to hold patents, and when the Patent Office wanted to order its first drawers, it ordered shoe drawers from Augustus Burgdorf. Or maybe not.

Commissioner Spear requested permission in 1877 to reduce expenses by disposing of the horse and carriage which belonged to the Patent Office. [footnote 4] However, he pointed out, although the expense of $100 per month for the horse and carriage was paid by the Patent Office, it was not maintained exclusively for the use of the Patent Office, so he thought it proper to submit the matter to the Secretary of the Interior for decision. The reply is [Pg 194] not available, but by 1878 the Patent Office spent less than $100 for the year in hiring horses and carriages from James Keleher as needed.

[Page 194 illustration: Portrait of Halbert E. Paine]

The next Patent Commissioner was Halbert Eleazer Paine (1826-1905) of Wisconsin. He graduated from Western Reserve at age 19 at the head of his class and practiced law in Cleveland, Ohio. He was brevet major general with the troops of Wisconsin in the Civil War and was later elected to Congress from Milwaukee. He was appointed Commissioner on November 1, 1878. He promoted the use of typewriters in the Patent Office, and he installed the first typewriter in his own office, with Virginia Middleton being his typist. He then issued an order for the general use of typewriters in the Patent Office, and had them installed throughout the Patent Office as fast as typists could be found. In the various records in the National Archives, the first typewritten Patent Office document found by your guide was dated May 28, 1880, less than a month after Mr. Paine's departure from office.

Back in Chapter 29, E. T. Hall came to see Commissioner Leggett, offering to sell to the Patent Office the Hopkins patent, the first issued by the U. S. government. In 1879, Commissioner Paine wrote to the Interior Secretary, [footnote 5] recommending that Congress be asked to appropriate $500 to purchase the patent. The government did not purchase this document, and it eventually found its way into the collections of the Chicago Historical Society.

In 1879, the photolithographing of patent drawings was being done under appropriations which authorized the Commissioner to require the contractor to do the work in Washington. Earlier contracts had been let to firms in New York City, and excessive delay was found to result. The Patent Office was not happy having its only copy of various drawings out of the Patent Office, and it was exceedingly unhappy having it out of the city. Naturally, there were protests from distant lithographers that they were being improperly excluded from lucrative government contracts. The Patent Office maintained that it wanted the proof sheets within one and a half days from delivery of the drawings to the contractor, and that could not be done out of town. Delay in obtaining proofs would result in delay of issuance of the Official Gazette, which was not considered acceptable. Attempts were made twice to have the work done outside of Washington. The first time, there was a delay of two to three months in returning drawings to the Patent Office. The second time, the work was considered generally [Pg 195] inferior, and the proof sheets, even when inferior, were received in an average of five days. Both Mr. Paine and his Chief Clerk vigorously opposed attempts to change the terms of the appropriations. Congress decided the Commissioner should be allowed to have the work done anywhere he could have it done at reasonable rates. [footnote 6]

[Page 195 illustration: Portrait of Edgar M. Marble]

The next Commissioner was Edgar M. Marble (1838-1908) of Michigan, who was appointed May 7, 1880. In late 1881, he resigned to become land commissioner of the Northern Pacific Railroad in Duluth, Michigan. However, Michigan in winter did not suit his health, and he returned to the Patent Office within weeks and remained until 1883. [footnote 7]

Next was Benjamin Butterworth (1837-1898) of Ohio, who was appointed Commissioner on October 26, 1883. He was a Republican member of Congress from Cincinnati from 1878 through 1882. When he was defeated for the 48th Congress, he was made Commissioner of Patents. He was of the impression, soon after assuming the duties of Commissioner, that the principal handicap under which the Patent Office operated was being caused for it by Congress. The Patent Office had insufficient examiners, insufficient room, and insufficient compensation to do the job as well as it should be done, and all of these were correctable by Congress without spending funds in excess of the fees already being paid by applicants. But Congress would not appropriate the money needed to do the job. While Commissioner, he compiled a book entitled The Growth of Industrial Art, an excellent collection of engraved illustrations of the various stages of development of many arts. Mr. Butterworth was reelected to Congress from Cincinnati for the 49th Congress and served in Congress from March 1885 through March 1891, serving eventually as the chairman of the House Committee on Patents. He refused further nomination to Congress. Then he had a unique accomplishment. He was appointed a second time to be Commissioner of Patents on April 12, 1897, and served until his death from pneumonia in early 1898.

Martin Van Buren Montgomery (1840-1898) of Michigan was appointed Commissioner on March 21, 1885. He was a lawyer practicing in Lansing, Michigan when appointed. He emphasized orderly and uniform practice in the Patent Office. Upon his resignation as Commissioner in 1887, he was appointed Associate Judge of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia.
[Pg 192]
[Page 196 illustration: Portrait of Martin Van Buren Montgomery]

Benton J. Hall (1835-1894) of Iowa was appointed Commissioner on April 7, 1887. He was a Democratic member of Congress from Iowa from 1885 to 1887, and upon defeat for re-election he was appointed Commissioner. While he was Commissioner, he heard one of the most important interference cases argued by one of the greatest collections of legal talent ever to argue a case before the Patent Office. This was McDonough v. Gray v. Bell v. Edison, a continuation of the telephone interference cases. After leaving the Patent Office, he practiced patent law in Chicago.

Charles Elliott Mitchell (1837-1911) of Connecticut was appointed Commissioner on April 1, 1889. He was a prominent patent practitioner for years before his appointment. Mr. Mitchell was Commissioner during the Patent Office Centennial. When he left office, he practiced patent law in New York City for some years, then became president of the Stanley Rule and Level Company of New Britain, Connecticut.

Throughout the 1880s, successive Commissioners complained of the need for more room. When the Indian Bureau moved out of the Patent Office Building in 1884, nine additional rooms were acquired for use by the Patent Office. The walls of these rooms were covered with green mold. The rooms were damp, and the atmosphere in them was constantly foul. Several deaths were said to have occurred because of disease contracted in these foul rooms.

In 1878, the Patent Office had problems collecting money for some of the services it rendered. When a patent agent wrote to the Patent Office to ask for a handwritten copy of some patent specification, he was never certain what that copy should cost. He could ask for an estimate, then await the estimate before ordering the copy with the necessary funds, then await the copy, but this caused unnecessary delays. The Patent Office sometimes made copies and billed the patent agent for the amount due, but bankruptcies and deaths sometimes left the Patent Office unable to collect the small sums of money due it. Commissioner Spear then authorized the Patent Office financial clerk to receive money deposited in advance by persons who frequently ordered services, and then to spend this money on instructions from the depositors. The financial clerk kept this money in a collection of envelopes, which were marked with the name of the depositor and the sum on deposit. As each sum was collected from the depositor, the amount so collected was written across the front of the envelope. This was in effect the first deposit account.
[Pg 197]
In November 1878, Levi Bacon (ca 1820-1887) of Michigan was appointed financial clerk of the Patent Office through the influence of Jay Hubbell, a Republican politician, also of Michigan. Bacon had been in the Patent Office in some capacity since September 30, 1875. He seemed to do his work so efficiently that he was held over by the subsequent Democratic administration. When Bacon died, still in office, on June 22, 1887, an audit of his accounts found shortages, and his deposit account envelopes were all found empty. The total shortage in his accounts was about $33,000, of which about $4,500 came from the attorneys' deposits. In those days it was common for the political party in power to make assessments of money against the politically appointed employees of the various departments, the money to be used to assure reelection of the party that had appointed them. A memorandum found in Bacon's safe indicated that the total amount of the shortfall which could not be accounted for by due-bills from employees and others, about $11,000, was very nearly the exact amount that Mr. Bacon had to contribute to the Republican coffers in 1880 as the assessment of the Interior Department. [footnote 8]

There was much discussion about whether the Patent Office was to be responsible for the losses of the agents from their deposit accounts. Although it is not clear, it seems that the Commissioner got permission for the Patent Office to fill copying orders to the amount of the deposited money, though the money itself was missing. The long-term solution was to require that money deposited by agents be immediately deposited in the Treasury, with only deposit receipts kept in the clerk's envelopes for accounting purposes.

[Page 197 illustration: Portrait of Benton J. Hall]

Although the consolidated Patent Act of 1870 had declared that it was only necessary to submit models with patent applications when required by the Commissioner, they were usually required for the next ten years. About 1880 the Commissioner issued a new regulation which required a model only when specifically required by the Commissioner or a principal examiner, no model being required if a working model were exhibited in operation in Washington to aid in the examination of the application. [footnote 9] In 1890, when 26,000 patents were issued, only 535 models were added to the collections in the Model Rooms. Commissioner Mitchell regarded it as a public calamity in 1890 that the Patent Office had a few years earlier been compelled to suspend the reception of models except in special instances, for want of room to store and exhibit them. [footnote 10]
[Pg 198]
In the spring of 1883, Herman Hollerith (1860-1929), formerly a census clerk and an M.I.T. instructor, became an assistant patent examiner. He had been working on a method of tabulating census results with punched cards. Within a year he resigned from the Patent Office and opened an office as an "Expert and Solicitor of Patents," then applied for patents on his punched card machines. The patents were granted, and the cards were successful and were adopted by the Census Bureau for the 1890 census. Hollerith founded the Tabulating Machine Company, a predecessor to International Business Machines or IBM. He began the practice, later adopted by IBM, of renting, not selling, his tabulating machines. [footnote 11]

[Page 198 illustration: Portrait of Korekiyo Takahashi]

In early 1886, the Japanese government sent Korekiyo Takahashi (1854-1936), soon to be their first Commissioner of Patents, to Washington to study the U.S. Patent Office in an effort to learn how to set up the Japanese Patent Office. Mr. Takahashi had studied for a year in the United States when he was thirteen, and he was fluent in English. Mr. Takahashi was in Washington for several months, working diligently. The U.S. Commissioner had directed that every available facility was to be given him in collecting information, and that a copy of every publication, notice, circular, etc., ever issued by the Patent Office and then available was to be given him. Among the many patent examiners who had discussions with Mr. Takahashi was the design examiner, Dr. P.B. Pierce, who had several days of discussions with him. Near the end of these discussions, Dr. Pierce said: "Mr. Takahashi, I have answered many questions asked by you; would you object to answering a single question which I would like to put to you?" The Japanese Commissioner at once indicated his readiness to answer. Dr. Pierce said: "I would like to know why it is that the people of Japan desire to have a patent system." "I will tell you, then," said Mr. Takahashi. "You know that it is only since Commodore Perry, in 1854, opened the ports of Japan to foreign commerce that the Japanese have been trying to become a great nation, like other nations of the earth, and we have looked about us to see what nations are the greatest, so that we could be like them; and we said `There is the United States, not much more than a hundred years old, and America was discovered by Columbus yet four hundred years ago;' and we said `What is it that makes the United States such a great nation?' and we investigated and we found [Pg 199] that it was patents, and we will have patents." Dr. Pierce, reporting the interview, added: "Not in all history is there an instance of such unbiased testimony to the value and worth of the patent system as practiced in the United States." As the present generation knows, Japan soon got its patent system. [footnote 12] In 1921, Korekiyo Takahashi was prime minister of Japan for seven months. He advocated economic instead of military competition with the Western powers, and for this was assassinated in 1936 by a group of young officers to get him out of the way of the military faction preparing for World War II.

[Page 199 illustration: Portrait of W.H. Thorne]

From at least 1887 through 1893, Mr. W. H. Thorne, formerly a second-rate actor from a family of first-rate actors from New York, was a copying clerk in the Patent Office. He claimed to have inherited the title Duke of Normandy from his grandfather, John Mastayer, and his friends all called him Duke. This peerage was first confiscated by the French court of peers in 1203 from John Lackland, later King John of England, for having assassinated his nephew Arthur, Duke of Brittany. It was re-established three times, each time being given to the eldest son of the King of France and each time being extinguished upon that son's assumption of the French throne, the last time in 1469. The title had been extinct for over 400 years when it was claimed by Mr. Thorne. But every second-rate actor needs something to make other people feel that he is important. [footnote 13]

The last entry in the Annual Reports up to 1892 for the expense of keeping a horse for the Patent Office was made in 1887. After that, nothing.

As early as 1887, F.M. Shields of Mississippi wrote a letter to Scientific American, suggesting that inventors meet in 1890 for a celebration of the centennial of the U.S. patent system. [footnote 14]
On April 8-10, 1891, the patent system celebrated the beginning of its second century. The celebration was a year late, since the first United States patent statute became law on April 10, 1790. The celebration had been suggested on time, but there was no organization to arrange it. Finally, after the celebration did not occur on time, an ad hoc committee, chaired by patent attorney Robert Washington Fenwick, moved the plans off center, and momentum took over. . . . See Prologue -- The Centennial Celebration.

Go to top page of Patent Office history material