Scientific American, v 27 (ns) no 5, p 71, 3 August 1872
Drawings of the Patents
We are glad to be able to state that the Official Gazette of the Patent Office, in which Claims are now printed, is to be hereafter illustrated with the drawings of the patents, done on a reduced scale by the photo-lithographic process. The public will thus be placed in possession, at a cheap rate, of complete copies of the drawings of the patents, together with incomplete copies of the specifications. Part of a loaf is better than no bread, says the adage, and therefore we suppose we ought to be thankful for fragments of the patents. We trust, however, that Congress will now go a little further and order the printing of the entire specifications, instead of the mere tail ends which are now given. In the compact type, now used in the Gazette, only about two thirds more space will be occupied if the full specifications are printed, while the work will be rendered indefinitely more creditable and valuable. By the full printing of all the patents in this manner, applicants will be enabled to inform themselves readily as to what has been previously done in any particular line of invention, much litigation will be avoided, and the general business of the Patent Office will be simplified.
A Decision by the Commissioner of Patents
"Where a device, though simple, saves time and labor, and is not anticipated, the grant of a patent is warranted."
The above simple and reasonable proposition was laid down by Commissioner Leggett in a recent appeal to him from a decision by the Board of Examiners-in-Chief.
It appears that George Richardson applied for a patent for an improvement in bobbins, which consisted in simply making a couple of holes through it so that the bobbin spindle could be conveniently oiled. The primary examiner rejected the case on the ground, first, that the invention lacked utility -- was good for nothing; second, that it lacked novelty, it being common, and not an invention, to make oil holes in machinery.
The Board of Examiners-in-chief coincided with this view, and assumed, furthermore, that there was no need for the holes, as the oiling could be just as easily done by removing the bobbin from the spindle; they were also of opinion that the oil would exude from the holes and injure the yarn upon the bobbin; the holes were therefore a damage and not an improvement.
In reply to these objections, it was shown by the applicant that, in practice, the oil did not exude, that his invention saved time and labor in oiling and was therefore useful, and that as the examiner had been unable to produce a reference to a similar device, it was proper to assume that it was novel. The two conditions of patentability being thus established, namely, novelty and utility, the applicant asked that the patent might be allowed.
Commissioner Leggett granted the petition, reversed both of the decisions of the examiners, ordered a patent to be issued, and laid down for the guidance of examiners the sterling proposition here repeated: "Where a device, though simple, saves time and labor, and is not anticipated, the grant of a patent is warranted."
This maxim is clear and correct. It ought to be painted in conspicuous letters, in blue and gold, upon the walls of all the apartments occupied by the examiners-in-chief and the primary examiners, as a constant reminder to duty. It seems to be difficult for some of these officers to remember that their first and most important function is to assist and encourage inventors by the granting of patents. Instead of doing this, they frequently commit the folly of improperly rejecting their cases; and in the study of excuses for maintaining such rejections, they are apt to exhibit more ingenuity than is found in the invention which they reject.
The Patent Office Gazette
The Official Gazette of the Patent Office is furnished at the government expense to Senators and Representatives in Congress; each of these persons may designate eight public libraries to which the Gazette shall also be sent free. All others who desire to receive the publication must subscribe. The rate is to be not less than five dollars a year, which is the price at present. The Commissioner of Patents may, we presume, increase the price should he deem it necessary. The publication of the drawings of the patents for the current year on a reduced scale has been commenced in the Gazette. They are admirably executed by the American Photo-Lithographic Company. The drawings are given in full, but such is the perfection of the reductions that, although the drawings of no less than thirty patents are in some cases presented on a single page of the Gazette, every drawing is clear and legible.
The success of this excellent and economical mode of publishing the patent drawings, will, it is to be hoped, induce Congress to provide the means for the printing of the specifications in the same concise manner. If fine types are used, and care taken not to waste space in the margins, it will be practicable for the Government to issue printed copies of all the patents, occupying only eight or ten volumes a year, at a cost to subscribers of from ten to twenty dollars. This will be a work of great public importance and value. At present the drawings are given in full but not the specifications. Only the concluding portions, or claims, of the specifications are now published.
Promotions at the Patent Office
W. Burke, lately first assistant examiner in class 25 "Clay and glass manufactures," has been appointed Principal Examiner in class 121, "Steam."
J. Newland, lately first assistant examiner in class 126, "Calorifics," has been appointed Principal Examiner in classes 61 and 98, "Hydraulics and Pneumatics."
Both of these appointments are the result of competitive examinations which were highly creditable to the successful candidates. Both are gentlemen of ability, and their appointment to the higher position, they now occupy gives general satisfaction. They are well qualified, zealous, and industrious officers.
Renewed Activity at the Patent Office -- Reorganization and new Classification -- Appointments and Promotions
The increasing business of the Patent Office has for some time past rendered the old system of classification of the inventions inadequate, and has occasioned much delay in the business of examination. As a remedy for this state of things, the Commissioner of Patents has very wisely decided to institute an entirely new classification, introducing a large number of subdivisions, which will greatly add to the convenience of all who are connected with the department. Formerly, the inventions were divided into twenty-one classes, each of which was managed by one principal examiner and one assistant. Under the new organization, which went into operation on the 15th ult., the inventions are formed into twenty-two grand divisions, at the head of which is a principal examiner. These divisions are separated into one hundred and fifty classes, or subdivisions, administered by some sixty principal and assistant examiners. The work of re-arranging the drawings and documents of the establishment in accordance with this new organization, is now going on at the Patent Office, and as soon as it is completed, we may expect to see a marked improvement in the general working of the bureau. Every case will be promptly examined and decided, the tedious delays now too often experienced will be avoided, every part of the business of the establishment being carried on with ease and regularity.
The following gentlemen, who have held positions as second assistant examiners, have been promoted, on merit, to be first assistant examiners: -- C.W. Forbes, O.C. Fox, C.W. Chapman, and H. Seymour.
The following have been appointed second assistant examiners: -- J.A. Brown, J.B. Church, and R.G. Dyrenforth.
Ed. H. Knight, formerly editor of the Patent Office Gazette, has been appointed a principal examiner and placed in charge of the classification, indexing, and official publications.
Professor H.H. Botes, formerly in charge of division B of Agriculture, has been assigned to duty in charge of the class of Civil Engineering, to fill the vacancy caused by the promotion of General Ellis Spear to be one of the Examiners-in-chief.
Major J.C. Woodward has been placed in charge of a new class formed out of the division of the classes of Civil Engineering and Land Conveyance.
Patent Office Items
The Commissioner of Patents has granted an extension of the patent of Theodore Heermane, of Illinois, for coffee roaster, and of Harlow H. Theyer, of Boston, Mass., for journal boxes, and has refused an extension to Clayton Lippincott, administrator of Sherburne C. Blodgett, deceased, of New Jersey, for sewing machine.
Lewis W. Haupt, C.E., Assistant Examiner in the class of Civil Engineering and Architecture, has resigned his position to accept the chair of Assistant Professor of Civil and Mechanical Engineering and Mathematics at the University of Pennsylvania.
The receipts of the Patent Office during the month of August last were $52,217.75.
Patent Office Items
Assistant Commissioner of Patents J.M. Thacher, after several weeks' absence, has returned to his post, and will administer the duties of the Commissioner while the latter is away in the West, whither he has gone in the interest of the Government.
Competitive examinations, which have recently taken place at the Patent Office, have resulted in the following appointments and promotions: Major Z.F. Wilber, lately first assistant examiner in chief of the class of Mills, Glass, and Clay, has been promoted to be principal examiner in the same class, to fill the vacancy made by the resignation of T.C. Folger; F.I. Freeman, W. Osgood, L.N.E. Cooke and J.B. Darnall are appointed second class clerks in the examining corps.
Professor H.H. Bates, examiner, has taken charge of the class of Civil Engineering.
The Page Patent -- The Attempts to Enforce it to be Resisted
The readers of the Telegrapher are not ignorant of the position of the independent telegraphic journal of the country upon this matter, vital to the telegraph interests. -- the patent granted to Professor Charles Grafton Page, under a special act of Congress. When the act under which this patent is issued was pending, it was represented, by the gentlemen who had it in charge in both Houses of Congress -- Representative Myers in the House, and Senator Patterson in the Senate, -- to be a recognition of the claims of an American scientist to an honor which had unjustly been accorded to another person by a foreign government, for certain discoveries and inventions in magneto-electricity and apparatus and which it was authoritatively stated would infringe upon the prior rights of nobody. Under these representations, the act was passed. When the patent was issued, however, the claims were so framed as to cover certain important particulars in ordinary telegraphic machinery.
Soon after the patent was issued, and before any attempt had been made to enforce it, if such had been contemplated, Professor Page died. Up to this time no intimation had been given of a design to enforce the patent against the telegraphic interests of the country. The legal representatives of Professor Page, however, became impressed with the idea that he had left a very valuable property in this patent, and it was offered to various parties for sale, it being held at $500,000. Two or three licenses were issued under it to parties who were not inclined to contest it, the principal of these being to the American Fire Alarm Telegraph Company of Messrs. Camewell & Co. and the Gold and Stock Telegraph Company. Among others, the patent was offered to the Western Union Telegraph Company, the original price asked for it being $500,000. This was subsequently reduced to $50,000. The Western Union Company had an exhaustive examination of the validity of the patent made by eminent patent lawyers and experts, and declined to purchase it at any price. After the clique which now controls that company organized the plan which has been so persistently followed out during the last four years, looking to an ultimate monopolizing of the telegraphs of the country, this patent was believed to offer an important and valuable aid in the realization of their schemes. Negotiations were accordingly reopened with the heirs of Professor Page, in order that in its enforcement the widow and orphan dodge might be played for effect on judges and juries. Under the new proprietorship of the patent it was reissued, and the claims amended so as to cover all the vital points of the telegraphic instruments of every description in common use, and the principles upon which such instruments could be constructed.
The plans were now about ready to be carried out, and nearly all the leading patent lawyers received retaining fees in order to secure the services of such as were desired in enforcing the patent and to prevent others from being available for the defence. In due time actions were commenced -- the first being against the city of New York, for infringement of the patent in the instruments used in the police telegraph, another against the Deseret Telegraph Company of Utah, and one or two others up to the present time. The object is to obtain two judgments, either by default or collusion, so that, under the patent law, injunctions may be obtained. Up to this point all had been plain sailing, the Telegrapher alone having called attention to the monstrous character of the patent, and its destructive effect upon all telegraphic interests antagonistic to or competitive with the Western Union Company.
At length, however, the interests attacked have taken the alarm, and a vigorous resistance is to be made to the enforcement of the patent. An organization of opposing interests has been effected; able counsel have been employed, and are now engaged in preparing an effective defence. The validity of the patent can be successfully impugned, and will be. The counsel employed are in no respect inferior to those on the other side, and in intimate acquaintance with telegraphic and patent law are even better qualified than those arrayed against them.
In the legal contest which is about to ensue, the entire subject of telegraphic invention will necessarily be exhaustively investigated, and many facts, which are familiar to the few who have given this matter an examination, will be brought prominently into notice. The truth in regard to the real and original invention of electric telegraphy, and the apparatus by which it was effected, will be brought to light, and it is safe to say that the result will astonish the public, and will deprive certain parties of honors popularly accorded, but to which they are not justly entitled. The evidence already attainable is of the most convincing character, and the facts will be brought out without regard to any previous standing or reputation.
This contest will necessarily be long and expensive. As the present owners of the Page patent announce their determination to enforce their presumed rights under it, the contest is unavoidable, and must be met.
The proprietors of every telegraphic line and company which does not desire to be destroyed by the great corporation which seeks to overwhelm them, the managers of railroad telegraphs, the manufacturers of telegraphic and electrical instruments and apparatus, inventors and owners of telegraphic patterns and franchises, are all vitally interested in defeating this attempt to monopolize and exact tribute from the business in this country. These will all be called upon to unite in this opposition, and a regard for their own interests will suggest the only course that they can reasonably pursue. Divided among so large an interest, the burden of the defence will not be onerous to the different parties. We have no doubt that the response will be general, prompt, and favorable. The public are not less interested in the matter, as a consideration of the result of establishing such a patent will show; and, if it could be done, every person who uses telegraphic facilities would be taxed to put millions of dollars in the coffers of the ring who seek, by means of this patent, to enrich themselves at the expense of the people of the country.
We have made this statement; in order that it may be known that so monstrous an outrage is not to be quietly submitted to, and that those who are called upon to unite in averting such a calamity may be informed of the danger which threatens the telegraphic interest, and prepared to respond promptly.
Drawings for the Patent Office
The rules of the Patent Office are now very strict in regard to the character of drawings furnished for patents. They are required to be done on "Bristol board," in India ink, size of sheet 10 x 15 inches, one inch margin, as few lines as possible. All lines must be clean, sharp and solid, not too fine nor crowded. Every line and letter must be absolutely black. Shading to be very sparingly used, and line shading alone permitted, brush shading and colors being wholly excluded. The light is always supposed to come from the upper left hand corner. There are a variety of other regulations about the lettering and placing on of titles, all of which are very strictly enforced. The reason why the Patent Office is so very particular, as to the mode in which drawings are presented, is to secure facility and legibility in their publication. The drawings are now reproduced and printed by the photo-lithographic process. This involves, in the first place, the production of a perfect photographic glass negative from the drawing, and the clearer, blacker the lines of the drawing, of course the better will be the negative and the resulting prints. From the negative a print in chromatized gelatin, on paper, is made, which print is transferred to stone, then inked and printed in the press like all lithographs.
At present the Patent Office produces three negatives, of different sizes, from each drawing, and three different editions of the prints are issued, one of very small size for the Official Gazette, one of medium size for bound volumes of patents, and one of large size for attachment to the patents when issued.
Official Publication of the American Patents -- A New and Important Work
No better evidence of the energy and ability which the present Commissioner of Patents, General M.D. Leggett, has brought to the discharge of his onerous duties, and no more satisfactory proof of the rapid improvements which are being effected in the department under his charge, can we think, be asked than that afforded by the recently published volume which forms the first of a series hereafter to be issued by the Patent office, entitled "Specifications and Drawings of Patents." It consists of a large quarto of 668 pages of letter press and 226 pages of plates, containing not the mere claims, but the entire specifications and reduced facsimiles of the drawings of all patents issued for nearly one month. It is intended to publish this work monthly, so that the record of devices patented, instead of being obtainable only in the Patent Office, will be broadly disseminated throughout the country and made generally accessible.
The importance of this undertaking, both as an encouragement to the useful arts and as a valuable aid to the inventor, can hardly be over estimated. An immense amount of time is constantly wasted by people seeking to develop what to them are new ideas, which are in the end perfected only to be rejected, after official examination, as old and covered by previous patents, while the luckless inventor discovers too late that he might have saved all his toil and expense, had he posted himself in what others had done before him. With the aid of the present work, which -- for a small yearly sum, no more than sufficient to cover the actual cost -- may be added to every one's library, the most accurate information may be obtained, not only regarding the latest improvements and discoveries, but also that has hitherto been accomplished in any special branch of industry or mechanism. So that within a few years the accumulated volumes will form the most elaborate encyclopedia of the useful arts ever published.
Each monthly edition will contain at the least estimate one thousand patents, while the aggregate of the latter, published in the twelve volumes, will reach nearly fourteen thousand per annum. If we compare the above total with that corresponding in other countries, we find that the sum of all the patents granted in the United States in a single year exceeds the entire number issued by many nations during the past century or since the establishment of their patent offices. This fact alone shows that the work will be of still wider value as furnishing, not only to Americans but to the world, a complete record of the majority of all useful inventions produced.
Great Britain approaches us most nearly in the number of novel ideas yearly devised by its inhabitants and placed under the protection of its patent laws. The statistics of this nation show that 3,000 patents are annually granted, but little over one fifth of the average taken out in the United States. The English specifications and drawings have, however, been regularly published for a considerable period back, so that we are enabled to draw the contrast between the British and American modes of transmitting this valuable information to the public.
The specifications of the English patents are issued in volumes measuring 7 1/2 x 10 x 2 1/2 inches, each weighing some 4 1/2 pounds. Each year's publication occupies about fifty books of specifications alone, the drawings being bound separately in fifty additional volumes -- 16 x 22 x 3 inches in dimensions, and weighing about fifteen pounds each. The aggregate dead weight of a year's issue reaches 975 pounds or nearly half a ton of printed matter, all of which, it seems, is required for the description of 3,000 patents in a matter not a whit clearer or fuller than our compact yet elaborate volumes. On the above English plan of publication, it would require about five hundred volumes a year, weighing in the aggregate over two hundred tons, to produce the same number of patents as are yearly issued in this country, and which Commissioner Leggett expects to print in thirteen comparatively small volumes. As to the comparative expense of the two systems, no comment is necessary. As a matter of course the English publications might as well remain unprinted, for they are virtually out of almost every one's reach.
We can confidently predict a world-wide circulation for our new works. It will prove a trusty guide to the inventor and a useful and convenient means of reference for the Patent Office. Examiners, as well as a valuable repository of knowledge, for all interested in or desirous of obtaining information regarding our industrial progress. As an addition to our mechanical and scientific literature, it inures greatly to the credit of Commissioner Leggett, to whom its inception is due, while, as a monument of the national inventive genius, it is a production of which the country may justly be proud.
The present system of conferring patents upon inventions of public advantage, says Mr. W.R. Hooper, in Appleton's Journal, comes down to us from a transatlantic custom of very doubtful parentage. The English monarchs of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were wont to bestow on some royal favorite the privilege of the tanning of leather, the sale of salt, or other desirable monopoly. And when freedom, "slowly broadening down from precedent to precedent," had taken away this regal prestige, the same privilege might be acquired by him who could prove that his newly discovered invention would benefit the community. This wild graft of royal patronage, transplanted across the ocean, has burgeoned into one of the most beautiful branches of the tree of liberty. The Patent Office stands side by side with the common school as the ripened development of a distinctively American civilization. In literature, in commerce, in the arts of war, and in many such things, different nations may be our superiors; in a widely diffused education and in inventive genius for labor-saving machines, America leads the world.
As at present systematized, the grant of a patent is in the nature of a contract. Government says to every man of inventive skill that, if he will apply his mind and his capital to invention, and shall develop an improvement upon any existing "art, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter," he shall enjoy the benefit of his invention for the next seventeen years; at the expiration of that time the invention is to become the property of the public. So well is this contract appreciated that, short as has been our national existence, one hundred and ten thousand persons have already entered into it, and fifty thousand more applied and were rejected. The number of applications for patents steadily increases, as well as the objects of invention. These applications now arrive at the capital at the rate of twenty thousand per year.
It is the general opinion of those who study our patent system as a science that we are just on the verge of new discoveries that shall benefit the world more than any past invention. We have bridled the lightning and taught it to carry messages; but suppose the awful force of electricity, that can crush the hardest rock and bring a more tremendous power to bear instantaneously on a given point than any other known motor, should be as subject to our control as steam is! In that instant the motive power of the world is more than doubled. Within twenty years the burden of sewing has been taken off the mother and sister and put on the machine. Suppose the flying wind that hovers over our roofs should be imprisoned and so used that it should perform all our domestic labor before the airy captive should escape! There is no power on earth so great, so steady, so massive, as the tide. Twice each recurring day it lifts the whole body of sea water a number of feet into the air. It penetrates up every creek and stream and river, forcing the water to rise and overwhelm the solid land. Should this immense amount of tidal power, that envelops the whole world, become subject to the will of man and forced to do his bidding, we should have an instrumentality to bear the burdens of mankind infinitely more powerful and more general than anything now in use. We travel today on solid earth; should some of the numerous applicants for patents for the use of balloons or flying machines happen to succeed, and we should all take to travelling upon the wings of the wind, what would become of railroads and turnpikes and steamboats? Nor are these idle speculations. The employment of lightning, of wind, of tide, of air, will not seem so strange to our enlightened children as the telegraph, the sewing machine, the railroad, and the steamboat seemed to their grandparents. The child may now be living who will yet see them all the willing slaves of man, joyous to do his bidding in the service of humanity.
The vast majority of patents contain no remarkable invention; they merely make some slight progress upon existing facts. Not in one great tide of invention does improvement come, but rather in small, gentle waves, each advancing almost imperceptibly further than its predecessor. And it is that slight difference that gives success to patents. The inventive mind is so constantly on the stretch that similar claims are constantly made by rival inventors. When petroleum first began to enlighten our darkness, there were twenty-five claimants at one time before the office, all asking for substantially the same mode of raising oil out of the solid earth. And when velocipedes so suddenly leaped into fashion a few years ago, four hundred and thirty-two applications for velocipede patents were filed within four months, and of these thirty-three were contemporary claims for the same idea. Each spring brings forth a crop of stove patents, each manufacturer preparing for the coming winter by striving to surpass his rivals in the prettiest pattern and the greatest warmth-giving power. Few persons think much of the form of the lamp they buy; yet lamp patents are renewed every year. At one time the student lamp, with an argand burner, yields its manufacturer a small fortune; the next year some fortunate genius notices that two wicks give an imperceptibly larger light than the argand; and the patent he obtains brings him prominence in all the lamp markets in the country. One of the most essential elements in patents is novelty; yet applications are continually made for patents based on ideas as old as the Christian era. Pliny, writing in the first century, describes harvesters for heading grain as then in existence on the plains of Gaul; and Paladius mentions them again in the fourth century; but both of these lacked some idea that would adapt them to general use. Tailor's machines were in smooth running order in Paris long before Hunt and Howe perfected the present invention. It remained for the Americans to lighten the domestic cares of the female sex throughout the world.
Most patent rights are limited in their application, and never attain a general circulation. But a patent of wide use, however small the royalty it pays, benefits the happy inventor with a large profit. Inventions for sewing machines, of which one company makes about three thousand a week, inventions for the use of India rubber, for agricultural implements, fire-arms, and modifications of leather and paper have accumulated fortunes. Nor is it possible to tell the extent of the ramifications of a patent. A few years since, all the dentists of the country combined to break an India rubber patent; every one of them had to pay a royalty whenever he inserted a set of teeth in vulcanized rubber. Their combination failed, and the royalty is still paid. One of the most profitable patents ever issued in this country was for the manufacture of horseshoes. In England one of the most lucrative has been the Bessemer manufacture of steel. Most patents concern themselves with agricultural or domestic labor. In one year two hundred and twenty patents were granted for cultivators, two hundred and ten for plows, one hundred and fifty for churns, one hundred and seventy five for washing machines, one hundred and fifty-one for sewing machines, and another hundred and forty for gates. Nearly eighteen hundred patents have been issued for sewing machines and their attachments; and the applications for newer inventions come in daily.
For these applications for patent rights increase much faster than the population. In 1851 there were two thousand of them; in 1870 nineteen thousand one hundred and seventy one, of which thirteen thousand three hundred and twenty one were granted. Inventive skill does not depend upon education. Prussia is as well educated as this country; but in 1867 only one hundred and three patents were issued in Prussia, as against thirteen thousand in this country. Vermont has as good schools as Massachusetts; but the Bay State secures ten percent of all the patents granted in the nation, while the Green Mountain State has less than one percent. To quicken the inventive mind demands a large amount of capital engaged in manufacture, a skilled body of workmen, and a profit to the improvement of manufactures. Where these coexist, patents are in demand.
As a general rule, valuable inventions are the results of long years of close thought and much expenditure of time and money. Capital never offers itself to the inventor without the promise of an enlarged and speedy return. Nor do valuable ideas often enter the mind of the outsider on any subject. Abraham Lincoln was a very able lawyer in Illinois when in May, 1849, he obtained a patent for lifting steamboats over river bars; but it may be doubted if that patent has ever been used, or would have been applied for by a marine engineer.
The amount of misapplied talent engaged on inventions that can never be used is as wonderful as it is prolific. There is a ludicrous element in many of the patents, and more of the applications, which is well worth investigation; and we extract from the records of the Patent Office, an account of some of these that show more genius than common sense, and have produced more laughter than profit.
In 1870, the owner of certain beehives, irritated by the loss of his honey by the bee moth, asked for a patent for a combined hen roost and beehive. He had noticed that the bee moth travels at night, while the busy bee works by day. His desire, therefore, was for a device that should admit the worker by day and keep out the thief by night. This his ingenuity effected by the erection of a hen roost pivoted upon a beehive provided with gates. The bees were expected to be in their cells just before dusk; the hens lighting on their roosts were then to close the gates of the hive, and keep them shut all night. The early rising of the fowls would automatically open the gates again, and return the bees -- their honey all safe -- to the airs of heaven and the flowers of earth. He received his patent.
Another applicant asked for a patent right for an artificial moon, that should light each town that used it without expense. His eve has often been struck by the reflection of distant windows at sunset, and how far the light traveled. He therefore proposed a balloon for each town, sufficiently large to raise a huge reflector that was to be hoisted every evening at dusk (about the time the hens shut in the bees). The reflections of the sun's rays, cast downward upon the village, was sure to light it through all the darkness of night. Fortunately for himself, this inventor presented his application through a patent attorney, who told him it was doubtful if it could be obtained.
In the fall of 1871, a gentleman, probably from California, applied for and received a patent for building houses on wheels or rollers, so that, in case of earthquakes, they might roll forward or backward, but not be shaken to pieces.
Only three years have passed away since a very ingenious gentleman from the rural districts applied for a patent to prevent cows from switching their tails! He presented two models -- one shaped like a bottle, around the neck of which the cow's tail was to be curled; the other consisted of a square block, with a hole through the center, wherein the tail was to be put, and then tied in a knot, so that the animal could not withdraw it. On the presentation of the application, the official examiner thought it could not be granted because of a similar device in "Don Quixote," where Sancho Panza, trying to sleep in the hay loft, was kept awake by the braying of the donkey below. His wakefulness gave Sancho time to reflect that, when riding the donkey, the animal switched his tail when he brayed. Descending hastily from the hay loft, the squire tied a block to the donkey's tail to prevent him from braying. But as this device originated with a Spaniard, and had never been repeated in this country, the office decided to grant the patent. Our readers will, therefore, remember that they cannot tie a cow's tail to prevent its switching without a payment of royalty to the owner of this privilege.
If "Don Quixote" anticipated one of our American patents, Coleridge's "Ancient Mariner" performed the same office for another, when he says:
"The air is cut away before,
And closes from behind."
Noticing how vessels are delayed by the necessity of pushing aside the water that obstructs their way, an ingenious gentleman asked for a patent for putting in front of the vessel a series of hollow wheels, whose blades should act as paddles. These wheels would lift the water so speedily out of the way that the vessel would have to rush in to fill the void. This motion of the vessel would give the wheels another turn, and then the wheels would once more lift away the water, and thus draw the vessel on. And so the motion of the vessel would turn the wheels, and the turn of the wheels would draw the vessel. This applicant for perpetual motion was so certain of success that, to provide for the only difficulty he could foresee -- which was in the two rapid motion of the vessel, that would tear itself to pieces -- he provided an anchor, with a spring cable to it, that he might check the vessel from its too rapid speed. The examiner however, might have given his decision in the next verse of the "Ancient Mariner:"
"Fly, brother, fly! more high,
Or we shall be belated:
For slow and slow that ship shall go,
Till the mariner's trance is abated."
An applicant for a patent for wooden pavements proposed to mount each block of wood on springs. He claimed that this would remove all jar in riding, and obviate the necessity of springs on carriages.
Another gentleman asked for patent for heating canals by steam, so that boating could go in winter as well as summer. The office decided that his invention was worthy of protection and gave him his patent.
Another applied for a combination of clock and bed, so ingeniously contrived that, when the clock struck, the bottom of the bed dropped out. He claimed that his plan would probably awaken the sleepers.
Speaking of combinations, he must have come from Missouri or Kansas who asked for a patent for a combination of cannon and plough. For this purpose he filed three applications, making the elongated handles of the plough hollow, so as to form two cannons. These were to be kept loaded till the guerrillas were after him; the cannons were then to be fired, the guerrillas shot down, and the farmer to go on his ploughing way rejoicing.
And he, too, must have come from the borders who asked for a patent of a combination of trunk and house. The trunk was made with triple sides, moving up and down. Doing duty all day in guarding clothes, when night came on, and no cabin near, the goods were to be taken out, the triple walls elevated into one, and the benighted traveler safely housed.
As early as 1718, Mr. James Pashile patented a swivel gun in England, with the motto
"Defending King George, your Country and Laws,
Is defending yourselves and Protestant cause."
The novelty of this plan was that his gun fired two kinds of ball -- a square ball and a round one. The round ball was to be used in all fights against Christian nations; the square balls, that would mangle the flesh more, only in contest with Turks and other heathen. This gentleman of old time must have been the ancestor of Mark Twain, of this country, who so lost his temper because the Secretary of War refused to recommend his gun for a patent. Mr. Twain's idea was to have a swivel gun that should load at the center and should fire off at both ends. In case of a siege, he proposed to load the gun, set it whirling, and drop it just outside the city walls. Before the balls left the mouth of the cannon, they would acquire such a rotary motion that they would sweep round the walls outside the town, killing off all the besieging host. We must acknowledge, however, that we have looked in vain, on the records of the office, for Mr. Twain's name, and hence we infer he never received his patent.
There would be much of the ludicrous, were there not more of the horrible, in the device of an American embalmer for a patent. Knowing that the office required a working model or drawing in all cases, he obtained the corpse of a little infant, embalmed it in his best manner, and forwarded it with accompanying specifications. The corpse was immediately returned to him.
One ingenious gentleman wants the nation to let him build a water wheel that should cover the whole front of Niagara, and whose shafting and power should reach all parts of the land.
Another asked for a patent for the invention of the generation of steam by boring a whole in the ground until he reached the waters that are boiled by the internal fires of earth. He set forth, among the advantages of his plan that there would be no danger of explosions, no expense for fuel, no necessity of engineers -- all of which statements are undoubtedly true.
It must have been a relative of this last gentleman, and one equally acquainted with the laws that govern the hidden heart of this planet, who applied for a patent for boring the earth for artesian wells for purposes of irrigation. He gravely set forth that he had made the discovery that quicksilver was heavier than common earth. He therefore proposed to start a hole, and empty into it a little mercury. By the laws of Nature, that mercury would be sure to work its way downward till it struck water, and the water would then be sure to work its way upwards till it struck air.
Should it be said that such patents as this last, as that for the prevention of cows' switching their tails, for artificial moons, for ploughs doing the work of cannon, etc., must be jokes, we can only reply that shrewd Yankees are not wont to pay thirty-five dollars even for practical jokes, and that none of these designs have culminated into patents under less than that sum, and, when attorneys were employed, under double and quadruple that sum.
The Journal (Appletons) is not large enough to contain the account of singular patents applied to domestic use. More than one application has been made for rat traps with a mirror in the center. The rat, seeing another rat, of his own size and age, nearer the toasted cheese than himself, would be sure to spring for it. There have been quite a number of tapeworm traps applied for, where a delicate bait is let down the thread by a delicate thread, and the hungry worm speedily drawn up. Constant application is made for patents for flying machines and for balloons. One contriver arms his balloon with cannon, another with Greek fire that should burst and explode when just over the hostile army. An English gentleman actually received a patent for putting a howitzer on horseback, and mounting the horse on springs, so that the recoil of the howitzer should not break the legs of the pony. And, as late as September last, a gentleman in this country applied for a received a patent for accelerating vegetable growth by the use of alternate strips of white and violet glass. In short, there is no idea so ludicrous, so wonderful, or even so old, that some person of good sense and inevitable ability has not endeavored to throw around it, or something like it, the protecting aegis of the law of patents.