Patent History Materials Index - Patent Materials from Scientific American, vol 6 old series (Sept 1850 - Aug 1851)

Scientific American, v 6 (os), no 15, p 118, 28 December 1850

Patent Office Reform

I was much interested in the perusal of the strictures of "Junius Redivivus," in the Scientific American, on the Commissioner's Report, and only regret one thing, which is, that there was too little of it, and rather scattering.

The Examiner mainly alluded to in those articles, has, for several years, excited the attention and fears of inventors, -- I like to be plainly understood -- I refer to Examiner Fitzgerald. This man has been in the office a long time, and he appears to have failed signally in obtaining the countenance of inventors -- the patrons of the Office. However well informed he may be in many parts of the routine of his business, he evidently does not possess that first of all important qualifications, -- a knowledge of his proper relation to us, as inventors. When such expressions as the following issue from a man, we are sometimes led to inquire into the matter, and see whose province it is to be thus peremptory: -- "The number of applications passed at my desk, for patents," etc., and "rejections at my desk," also, "applications finally rejected at my desk," "ordered (?) to issue," etc. Who is it that speaks thus authoritatively; the Commissioner? No: why, it is only the "examining clerk," Mr. Fitzgerald. I know of no authority to issue patents besides the Commissioner. Let me tell Mr. F. one fact that he forgot many years ago, -- the Commissioner has the right to reject what he, Mr. F. "orders to a patent." The province of an examiner is precisely similar to that of a clerk in a mercantile house, to whom the head of the establishment would refer a bill for examination when presented at the counter for payment; if the clerk "ordered" the bill paid, after his examination of it, I think the merchant would be apt to inquire who this would-be co-equal was? Mr. F. evidently possesses no feeling in common with inventors, hence he never can be a man acceptable to them. Dr. Page, formerly, had a bad name for want of liberality and sympathy, but a change has evidently been wrought in him, and why? Simply because he has become an inventor himself, and he now knows what it is to be hung between hope and fear (the inventor's greatest fear is of the Patent Office.) We welcome him into our ranks, -- he, like Paul, has been a great sinner, -- but, like Paul, we hope he will become distinguished for his conversion to right. I have been told, and I have reason to believe it to be true, that Examiner Fitzgerald has rejected cases in which the inventors thought they saw unfairness; appeals were taken, and Ex. Fitzgerald appeared as a pettifogger in the presence of Judge Cranch against the inventors. Of such a man I have no hope; and I hope and believe that Mr. Ewbank was ignorant of the fact. Give me a vacillating, simple headed enthusiast, in fact, anybody, to reason with, in preference to a dogmatic examiner. No man is degraded by changing his opinion from wrong to right; indeed I love a man for the nobleness displayed in such an act -- "a wise man changes his mind often," and "a man is bound to change his mind whenever he finds just cause for it" -- are sayings of wisdom, ill understood by Examiner F.; hence my reason for saying I have no hope of him.

At this time I know persons that have inventions which are valuable, and are needed for daily use, yet they will not trust their cases to the office, from the fact that their inventions are in one of Fitzgerald's classes.

As an inventor, I do not pretend to disguise the fact that I want to see Mr. Fitzgerald dismissed from the office, and a practical man -- a man of known feeling and community of interest with us, appointed in his place. I can feel for Mr. Ewbank; I know his duties are severe and harassing; still I know that a large portion of the care and unpleasantness experienced by him in the office, and the censures that have been applied to him outside, are caused by the action of such men in the office as I have alluded to.

I have something to say in regard to the proper duties and relations of Examiners, and also the province of the Commissioners, which I may communicate in future papers.



Scientific American, v 6 (os), no 20, pp 156-158, 1 February 1851

History and Description of the U.S. Patent Office Building

Designed by Wm. P. Elliot, Architect and Engineer, of Washington, D.C., and Adopted by the XXIVth Congress of the U.S. at their First Session, and approved by President Jackson

The magnificent building was commenced in the year 1836, and 270 feet of the south side of the block finished and occupied within four years from that period.

The annexed engravings (figures 1, 2, 3), show the principal, basement, and gallery floors. The vignette at the head of all Letters Patent of the United States, represents a perspective view of the south front.

The explanatory references accompanying the plans show the uses to which the halls, galleries, and rooms are to be appropriated. The plans marked 1, 2, 3 show a quadrangular building 413 x 280 feet, with an open court for light, air, etc. of 270 x 112 feet, containing a large room for patented models 270 x 65 feet, and two smaller rooms for the same purpose, each 85 x 65, communicating with the larger room, and thus making a room of 400 feet by 65 on the principal floor, and 36 rooms for office purposes, and the same number of rooms on the basement floor for rejected models, operative models, the heavier classes of patented models, work shops, laboratories, furnaces, engines, etc., etc., -- and a continuous gallery of 1100 x 65 feet, designed as a National Gallery for the exhibition of specimens of American skill and ingenuity, as developed by the patented improvements exhibited on the principal story, and to meet the requirements of the 20th section of the Patent Law of 1836. Other parts of the plan are intended to meet the requirements of other sections of this law. The plan of the building and the new code of laws were made and approved at the same, time, and the interior of the building was intended to conform to the requirements of this law, as near as possible. The sides of the business part of the building are divided by wide passages of 16 feet, running longitudinally through the center of the same, with openings at either end for light and air, -- by which arrangement, and the open court in the center, and the surrounding streets, the rooms are well ventilated and lighted. The temperature of the apartments, in cold weather, will be kept at a uniform degree by furnaces in the basement story. The building throughout is fire-proof. The walls of the basement story are to be of brick faced with granite. The superstructure is also to be of brick faced with a beautiful variegated brown and drab colored free-stone, which will harmonize with the gravity of the order of architecture adopted, and the character of the Institution. All the ceilings and floors are to be composed of brick laid in hydraulic cement, and flagged and supported by groin arches. The arched ceiling of the "National Gallery," is supported by rows of square columns and pilasters let into the external walls. The roof to be made light and covered with copper. The building is two stories high, resting upon an elevated basement. The order of architecture adopted for the exterior is the Grecian Doric of the age of Pericles, when the fine arts in Greece, particularly architecture and sculpture, had reached the highest point of excellence. The details are modelled after the celebrated Parthenon, erected on the Acropolis at Athens, one of the finest specimens of Athenian architecture, and which is now in part standing -- the marbles having indurated to such a degree, by an exposure of more than 2200 years to the atmosphere, to resist the action of a chisel. The principal front, on F street, is graced with a portico of 16 columns, octastyle arrangement, -- the columns, entablature, and pediment being of the size and proportion of the Parthenon, each column being 18 feet in circumference at the base. The tympanum and metopes are left blank. In the Parthenon these parts were enriched with very fine sculptures in basso-relievo and alto relievo, of such extraordinary excellence that modern artists may well despair of equalling them.

The monotony of this extended front is still farther broken up, and the boldness of the outline increased by projections of thirteen feet next to the east and west sides. The whole building is surrounded with bold antae or pilasters, let into the external walls, which produce nearly as rich an effect as the isolated frustum of cone columns, and are much stronger, and serve also as buttresses to resist the thrust of the arches. The entablature is continuous, and surrounded by a blocking course, which finishes the superstructure. The windows are arranged between the pilasters. The north front, on G street, is the same as the south front, on F street, except that the inner columns of the portico are omitted. The east front, on Seventh street, is graced with a portico of six columns, which tends to break up the monotony of this extended facade. The west front is relieved by a similar portico. This portico, owing to the position of the ground on the west, rests upon a vaulted terrace, from which it will be approached. The vaults of the terrace are to be used for fuel, lumber, etc. The cellar story, under this side of the block, owing to the low grade of the Ninth street, has a greater height, and may be divided into rooms, to be appropriated to some useful purpose, as they will be well ventilated and lighted, and approached form the pavement on Ninth street. The horizontal terrace, or pavement, surrounding the whole block, will, on the curb line, be the same size as the appropriation or site on which the building is erected, viz 500 x 363 feet, and be surrounded by a handsome ornamented iron railing, with gates as shown in the figures, to be kept locked at night. The posts may support the lamps for lighting the place.

In erecting this building, as far as it has progressed, it is believed that the original design has been substantially adhered to, except in a few minor points; and in every case where the Superintendent took the liberty to deviate from the plan, the building has evidently been injured; for instance, in the substitution of the curved projection on the North side for the rectangular projection crowned by a triangular pediment; crossing the large arch of the National Gallery by architraves and friezes; cutting through the arches of the basement story to add two additional rows of columns; and changing the style of vaulting from the groin arch to the barrel arch system; cutting the floor of the National Gallery on the East side by stairs and chimneys; changing the material so as to make the subordinate parts superior in finish to the principal, and dropping the sills of the basement windows of the east wing below the level of the sills of the center or main building, producing a want of uniformity and consequently destroying the eurythmy of the facade -- and also making the windows of the basement too prominent in the composition. The reduction in the width and depth of the pilasters has also tended to take away from the building a portion of its boldness and strength. Had the Architect, who designed the building, been permitted to carry out his own design these alterations would not have been made.

Figure 1 is the principal story of the Patent Office. The right side of the building is bounded by 7th street, west; on the left by 9th st., west. Figures 2 and 3 indicate the other bounding streets.

Explanatory references to the Original Plan of the Patent Office, adopted by Congress and approved by President Jackson in 1836. Figure 1 is a plan of the principal story, fig. 2 is a plan of the basement story; fig. 3 is a plan of the gallery story.

A -- National Gallery
B -- Hall for pending and recently patented models.
C -- Vestibule
D -- Commissioner's Room
E -- Chief Clerk's Room
F -- Draughtsman's Room
G -- Ante room now used as an Examiner's room
H -- Copying clerk and letter books -- Library and librarian
I -- Examiner's room now occupied by the Assistant Examiner
K -- Assistant Draughtsman
L -- Pay Clerk and Records and Record Clerk
M -- Examiner and Assistant Examiner
N -- Messenger
O -- Caveat Models
P -- Machinist
Q -- Rejected Models
R -- Ditto
S -- Ditto
T -- Vestibule of Basement
U -- Workshop and Lathe
V -- Laboratory and Experimenting Room
W -- Seed room
X -- Assistant Messenger
Y -- Room for Stove plates and large models
Z -- Furnace
U2 -- Operative Models
V2 -- Room for Wood
W2 -- Room for Lumber
X2 -- Operative Models
Y2 -- Coal Room
Z2 -- Furnace
e -- Room for Records and Clerks
f -- Room for Drawings and Assistant Draftsman
g -- Stationary room and Assistant Messenger
h -- Library and Librarian
i -- Vestibule and Stairs
j -- Room for Extension of the Library
k -- Agricultural Statistics
l -- Clerks of Ditto
m,n - Copying and recording clerks
o -- Examiner
p -- Assistant Examiner to Ditto
q -- Examiner
r -- Assistant Examiner to Ditto
s -- Examiner
t -- Continuous Passages extending round the Block
u -- Open Court for light and Air 270 x 112 feet
v -- Stairs of South side
w -- Ditto of North
x -- Ditto of West
y -- Ditto of East
B' -- Continuation of the model room for Patented models
B" -- Ditto

The rooms numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 may be used for Design Plates, Operative Models, Work Shops, Machinist, Clerks, etc. The rooms numbered 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17. 18. 19. 20, are designed to provide room for the extraordinary increase of the Patent Office.

The rooms numbered 21, 22, 23, 24, will be required for the same purpose.

Remarks on the Plan of the Patent Office

As the number of applications for patents is increasing annually to an extraordinary degree numbering 2,193 for the year 1850, and only three in the year 1790, and promising to reach 2,500 the present year, and in most cases accompanied by models averaging at least one cube foot in size, and there being at present upwards of 17,200 models in the office and a large portion of which are unclassified for want of room and the business of the Department increasing in a ratio almost equal to that of the number of applications, rendering it necessary to provide more room not only for the rapid accumulation of models but also for additional examiners, clerks, draughtsmen, machinists, and other officers required to carry on the increased business of the Department, and as the building, large as it appears to be, (413 x 280 feet) will be filled in less than twenty years, it seems to be a great misfortune that the architect did not select a larger lot of ground for the site of the Patent Office, to admit of the construction of a larger building -- one that would have sufficed for the wants of the Department for a century at least.

It is true the collection of articles in the "National Gallery" might be removed to another building, and thus more room be provided for models and the open court of 270 x 112 feet could be covered with a glass roof in the manner of the Exchange Building in Paris, which would furnish upwards of 20,000 additional square feet, of which a large portion might be appropriated to the display of models and other articles, yet it is evident that in less than fifty years the whole block, open court and other parts of the area will be crowded.

To add another story to the building would be inadmissible in this order of architecture, as the blocking course of the entablature finishes the building.

The basement story of the south side cannot be used for models owing to its damp state, arising from the omission of the builder to construct the cellar story in this portion of the structure. Already, the models at present crowded into the basement rooms are becoming very much corroded by dampness, and unless removed to drier apartments will be totally ruined.

Several of the clerks have suffered greatly from rheumatism, and other diseases, caused by being obliged to perform their daily labor in these damp apartments, and the Records, Books, drawings, and original papers are daily injured and liable to be lost in their transit to and from the principal floor to the basement story.

And the same may be said of the models. Much time is lost by not having the current business of the office performed upon the same floor.

The rooms in the basement were never intended for the performance of clerical duties; they were mostly intended for fuel, furnaces, etc., and to keep the principal story dry and comfortable.

Although more room is required to conduct the business of the Patent Office, and although the structure was originated and built expressly for conducting the Department of Patents, it has been diverted, in a measure, from its original purpose, and deliberate attempts are now being made to consummate the greatest outrage ever perpetrated against the interests and feelings of the inventive community of our country, and that is not small now, both in influence and numbers. Let us go over the history of this affair.

In the report for the year 1844, Mr. Ellsworth says, "The increase of models renders daily the transaction of business more difficult. The models of the patented inventions are crowded so much as to prevent classification; while models of rejected applications, equally important for exhibition, to enable supposed inventors to settle doubts as to originality, are not exhibited at all. It has been hoped that the large upper hall, designed originally for models, would not be diverted to other objects without some substitute being furnished. The beautiful collection of curiosities, however, from various parts of the world, forming the "National Gallery," are too important and interesting to be crowded out. There seems to be no alternative but to extend the building; this can be done at a moderate expense, if the work is performed by contract, under careful supervision. No new plan need now be presented. The original design contemplated two additional wings, one of which, added on the west side, would give sufficient accommodation by furnishing continuous rooms for models and the gallery."

Messrs. Ellsworth and Burke, the former Commissioners, finding that they could not conveniently carry on the business of the office, as it should be carried on, without more office room, and more space in which to arrange and classify the piles of accumulated models, both patented and unpatented, applied to Congress in 1844, 1845, 1846, and 1847 for an appropriation to complete the east and west wings of the building, according to the original plan. In 1849, Congress commenced by appropriating $50,000 out of the Patent Fund toward erecting the east and west wings of the Patent Office, according to the original plan. In 1850 a farther appropriation of $90,000 was made from the same fund and for the same object. [Original was mixed up. KWD] In the meantime the business of the office continued to increase at the rate of from 2,000 to 3,000 models per annum, averaging nearly one foot square. The models are now heaped up in confused masses, reaching nearly to the ceilings. After the wings had been commenced and carried up to a considerable height, the present Commissioner of Patents, to the surprise of everybody knowing about the subject, and in direct opposition to the fact, stated in his Report to Congress that "these additional structures are not required for the proper business of the office." The Chairman of the Committee on Finance accordingly moved to strike out from the appropriation bill the $90,000, towards "the erection of the wings of the Patent Office building, according to the original plan," and his motion would have been carried, and the work stopped and left as a disgraceful ruin, had not a majority of the Senators understood the true state of the Patent Office better than its official head, and treated his recommendation as it deserved to be treated. Now, the present Secretary of the Interior, Mr. Stuart, taking advantage of the incorrect statements of the Commissioner of Patents, in relation to the actual wants of his Bureau, and his willingness to abandon the rights and interests of inventors, and the proper care of their valuable property, coolly and deliberately recommends to Congress, in his Report of the 2nd ult., published in the National Intelligencer of the 3rd ult., "that the two wings of the Patent Office be furnished, and that they be appropriated to the accommodation of the Department of the Interior, and the different officers attached thereto."

It is but justice to Mr. Ewbank to say, however, that although he thought the wings of the National Gallery would be removed to the Smithsonian Institute, he called upon Congress to refund the money which had been taken out of the Patent Fund for their erection. We believe that the wings of the Patent Office should belong to the Patent Office, and no other Department, for if they be absorbed by any other Department now,when they are required for Patent purposes, it will be no easy matter to get them -- and required they must be at no very distant day. If the wings of the Patent Office be appropriated to the business of the new Department, it would be little better than highway robbery of the Patent Fund, to the amount of $140,000, which has been applied towards their erection. Unless this is paid up, if the recommendation of the Secretary of the Interior is carried out, no man will look upon the transaction in any other light than as one of Gothic pillage. We want justice -- no more and no less -- done to the inventors, whose moneys have been so liberally lavished on building the Patent Office. The recommendation of the Secretary of the Interior to apply the wings of the Patent Office for the benefit of the Department of which he is the head, is the coolest, most provoking and presumptuous recommendation that has come under our notice for a long time. Within the past year the greatest amount of Vandalism has been practiced against the Patent Office, by cutting and carving it all for the benefit of this new Department of the Interior. Orders have been given to subdivide the continuous "National Gallery" into small office rooms and to add an attic story, for the Department of the Interior, thus entirely destroying the original plan of the building, and breaking up the Gallery, which has always been considered the most beautiful feature of the structure. The Patent Office was never designed nor intended to be devoted to any other purposes than those connected with patents. Mr. Goddard, Chief Clerk of the Department of the Interior, in a letter to the Commissioner of Patents, dated 3rd inst., in order to answer certain questions of the Commissioner of Public Buildings, requested a statement of the number of rooms now occupied by the Patent Office, and whether any more, and what number, were needed. Mr. Lawrence, Chief Clerk of the Patent Office, on the 7th inst., four days after the other, makes the following answer, which we publish entire, and it will be found very interesting, as being a brief report of the state of the Patent Office:

Patent Office, January 7, 1851
Sir: In answer to your note of the 3d inst., directed to the Commissioner of Patents, and by him referred to me for reply, I have to state that there are twelve business rooms occupied by the regular force of the office on the main floor, and two small rooms at the ends of the west passage, containing rejected models. In the basement story there are ten rooms, four of which are occupied by temporary clerks, three used for storing the models of pending applications, two for coal rooms, and one used by members of the national Institute. The entire west passage on the basement is used for storing rejected models. This passage, though large, is entirely inadequate for the classification and proper disposition of the models already deposited there, and is at best but poorly adapted for the purposes of a model room. The second room is now filled with the files and records of the office, and an additional room for them is indispensable. The same may be said of the Library and Draughtsman's room. The "Gallery," now occupied by the Smithsonian Institution for the exhibition of the collection of the United States Exploring Expedition, will probably be retained for that purpose, should this be the case, the entire upper story of the east wing would not be too much room for the arrangement of models. The business of the office is steadily on the increase, and although the number of applications in 1849 far exceeded any previous year, still the past year has exceeded 1849 in the number of applications, by nearly three hundred. The number of applications in 1850 will not vary far from twenty-two hundred, and the number of models received on those applications may safely be estimated at one thousand. You will thus perceive the necessity of providing not only for the present but prospective wants of the office, in that particular. Should the examining force of the office be increased (and the increase of business seems already to demand it) additional rooms for Examiners will necessarily be required. In case such an increase should consist of two principal and two assistant Examiners, two more rooms will be indispensable for their accommodation. If four assistant Examiners should be added, four rooms will be required, as such additional assistants would not occupy the rooms now used by the Examiners and their present assistants. In case the latter plan for the additional force should be adopted, the room now occupied by the two assistants, and the principal Examiners would take separate rooms. The comparison of copies with originals is now done in the same room where the recording and copying is going on, causing much interruption and many errors. The clerk charged with this duty should therefore be provided with a room where it can be done without interfering with the proper execution of the recording and copying. In my opinion, at least six more rooms are indispensable for the transaction of business, besides the use of the Gallery of the east wing for the deposit of models.
DeWitt C. Lawrence, Chief Clerk

D.C. Goddard, Chief Clerk Dept.

Query -- Why did not the Commissioner himself answer the letter?

Those who know about the business of the Patent Office, state, that no less than thirty rooms are at present required by the office, and from the cautious manner in which Mr. Lawrence expresses himself, we would infer that his inner conviction was for thirty new rooms instead of six. At the present moment the models are arranged and kept in a shameful manner. What signifies the sending of models to our Patent Office, as representations of American genius, when they are stowed away in dark places, and treated so scandalously. There is a want of room and facilities for classifying and arranging the rapidly increasing number of models. Mr. Stoughton, the machinist of the Patent Office, in his last report, stated that "the policy of Congress in the law passed relating to the Patent Office, indicated a desire that every possible advantage should be given to inventors to examine everything for which patents have been asked, so that they may not waste their thought, time, and means upon that which had been produced before. These facilities cannot be granted, as the building is now occupied, for want of proper room to arrange the models. The models now in the Patent Office have cost the inventors, at a moderate calculation, $500,000 (half a million)." This is what Mr. Stoughton said in 1850, and, lo and behold! the Department of the Interior has been plundering, and designs to plunder more largely, the room required for the patent business. We have said once before, that "the Patent Office was the biggest pirate of inventions in our country," as it had been often conducted, and now we say, "the Department of Interior is the greatest pirate of inventor's property in our country." The Patent Office building was never intended to accommodate any other Department. Toward its erection $248,000 (nearly half a million) (sic) have been paid out of the patent Fund -- the money paid in by inventors, and did not cost the rest of our citizens a single cent. Is it not high-handed recklessness, then, to moral principles, in using and abusing the Patent Office, for any other purposes than those for which it was originally designed?


Scientific American, v 6 (os), no 21, p 162, 8 February 1851

The Patent Office

Last week we presented the plan views, description, and history of the Patent Office edifice. We now present a perspective view of the building, and no one can fail to admire the elegance of the design and the harmony of all its parts. This building was originated expressly for the purpose of conducting the business connected with the patents, and no other. No building was ever originated for a nobler or wiser object, and no country in the whole world can boast of such another Institution. It is not sectional in its interests, nor are its objects in any way connected with party politics as a matter of party policy. (This in the abstract not the real track.) It would be very wrong and unjust to divest this building to any other purpose than was originally intended, and we confidently believe that the attempt to do so will operate politically against the devisers of it. We speak advisedly on this point, and with a perfect knowledge of a very wide spread feeling on the subject. Were we the predominant political party who proposed such a measure, we know that we might expect an opposition decidedly hostile, and effective for party purposes to ensure defeat at some future day. On Wednesday, last week, Senator Walker offered a resolution, calling on the Commissioner of Patents to report whether the present Patent Office building is not sufficient for the business of the office, if the national curiosities be removed from the upper story. After debate the resolution was addressed to the Secretary of the Interior instead of the Commissioner of Patents, and was adopted.

This shows how the scheme is working. The Secretary of the Interior, Mr. Stewart, reported in favor of applying the Patent Office to the use of his Department; and here, don't you see, the Senate resolves to call upon him for information on the subject. This is something like appointing a judge to preside decide in his own case. The resolution was diverted from its original intention -- calling upon the Commissioner of Patents. We suppose that some one said the Commissioner held a different position from the old Commissioner -- that he was merely like a clerk under the Secretary of the Interior. The late Commissioner, Mr. Burke, while connected with the Union, blamed Mr. Ewbank for surrendering some of the privileges and powers of his office. We are afraid that this is so, and we regret it exceedingly. We sincerely hope that all schemes that have for their object the permanent appropriation of any part of parcel of the Patent Office from its original intent, will be defeated. We know of no class of men who have benefited our country so much as the inventors, and some respect should be paid to their feelings. The invention of the cotton gin, the steamboat, the spike machine -- card machines, turning machines, the telegraph, and nearly ten thousand other patented inventions, are some evidences of the benefit conferred upon our country by the genius and labors of inventors.

At the present moment there is great excitement in Washington and out of it, among inventors and those interested in patents. We have received a pamphlet of charges against the Commissioner, and a number of patents containing different opinions and statements of different parties. We have also received a copy of the National Intelligencer of last Monday, containing a defense of Mr. Ewbank, by himself; it is an earnest and able defense of his extension of the patent of E.M. Chaffee, for which charges have been brought against him by Mr. H. Day, of this city. We have no party feelings nor prejudices; we have spoken what we honestly believe to be right and just respecting principles and actions.


Scientific American, v 6 (os), no 21, p 162, 8 February 1851

The Architect of the Patent Office

The architect of the Patent Office edifice, a description of which we presented last week, is Mr. Wm. P. Elliot, of Washington, D.C., a civil engineer and architect, and now known for his professional abilities. He had been Draughtsman and Chief Clerk [No -- The chief clerk was his father KWD] in the Patent Office before 1827. He then went to Europe to study architecture, from whence he returned in 1784 (sic), and it was after that he designed and planned the Patent Office, exhibiting a cultivated taste and great professional acquirements. He also planned the new Treasury Buildings, and has been engineer of several canals and railroads.


Scientific American, v 6 (os), no 23, p 180, 22 February 1851

The Patent Office Building

The National Intelligencer of the 14th inst., replies to the articles we have published respecting the contemplated appropriation of the Patent Office Building to the use of the "Department of the Interior." It comes forward to advocate the measure (as might be expected) recommended by Mr. Stewart. It endeavors to prove that the Patent Office Building was not originally designed for the exclusive use and accommodations of the Patent Office, (this we did not expect) and quotes the law to prove its point, which is, that "there be erected on some appropriate site under the direction of the President of the United States a fire proof building with suitable accommodations for the Patent Office." "This act," it says, "did not declare the building to be for the exclusive accommodation of the Patent Office." It calls our charges flippant; if ever there was a more flippant argument to appropriate the Patent Office Building for any other purpose than the business of the Patent Office, the quotation above is one of them. Does the law mention a second party for whom the office was built? No. But the Intelligencer sees that it may mean the Department of the Interior, and an elastic commentator may make it mean anything.

All the arguments and figures of the Intelligencer fail to convince us -- as its principal object is to prove -- that the Patent Office building was ever designed, by any act of Congress, to be devoted to any purpose but that of Patent Accommodation, and the attempt now made by the Secretary of the Interior and his advocates, is the first of the kind ever made. It is true the Intelligencer says, "it is not intended for permanent use," but it is very easy to make such pretensions until the Department gets into it, and then the Intelligencer, which can find an argument for the Department of the Interior, in the original law, will be able to find a far stronger one for remaining in the office, even when it is demanded by the business of the Patent Department. If the Intelligencer had read our article attentively, it would have seen that this was the drift of our arguments. We said, (page 157, 2nd column) that if the Patent Office building was absorbed now, it would be difficult to get it when required, as it would soon all be, for the wants of the Patent Office. For years the Commissioners have been complaining that they have not had room. Why? Because the building has been appropriated to other uses than those originally intended by the projectors of the Patent Office Building. We will have something more to say upon this subject next week, as we have no more room to do so at present.


Scientific American, v 6 (os), no 24, p 189, 1 March 1851

When Congress passed the first Act to build the present Patent Office, the erection of the building was ordered not to exceed $108,000, to be paid out of the Patent Fund, but with a prodigality, common to all government jobs in Washington, it would appear, and for which the Patent Fund is in no way responsible, the expense for building the main part of the structure, and that with rotten, crumbling stone, cost over $300,000, the surplus being paid out of the public Treasury. But the Patent Fund had no business to pay the whole. Why? Because the building was appropriated to another purpose by the Government, namely the "National Gallery," thus doing injury to the spirit and intent of the Patent Institution, as it was designed to arrange and classify all the models for public inspection for the benefit of science; a thing which has never yet been done. The Intelligencer says: "As the claim is made for the exclusive use of the building as the property of inventors, is founded on the fact that their funds paid for its erection, is there not in this view of the subject sufficient ground on the part of the United States to the use of the building proportionate to the means furnished. This is an argument just like the policy pursued towards our inventors by our politicians. Now this is not the way to speak of inventors; they are part and parcel of the people, and not some kind of beings outside of the United States, as would be inferred from the language we have quoted. The Reports of every Commissioner of Patents for six years have complained of the want of adequate room to do the business, and at the present moment there is $500,000 of property, in models, in the building, a great deal of which is spoiling for want of proper room and attention. We think that we have a right to claim some salvage for the patent treasury, upon the principle of equity. Three years ago, the examinations of applications were about one year behind, all for want of a correct appreciation on the part of the Government, of the wants of inventors and their just claims. It has been the custom of the Government to be very liberal in appropriating the Patent Fund to other purposes than those connected with patent business, or that immediately related to the same. Thus, in 1848, $1,000 was appropriated out of it to a Mr. Smith for agricultural statistics, under Mr. Ellsworth. In 1849, $3,395.76 were paid out of the same fund for agricultural statistics, and $1,400 for an analysis of some bread stuffs. Would it be right to order one cent to be paid out of the Post Office Fund for experiments in steam or gunpowder? No. Well, then, we cannot see but the appropriation would be as fair as those we have mentioned, which were made out of the Patent Fund; but curious explainers of the Patent Laws, have seen and, like the Intelligencer, do see otherwise. We have no personal feelings on the subject; we believe it to be our duty to speak out, as we have done, and if the Intelligencer takes up the back Reports of the Commissioners of Patents, we are confident that it will (or we much mistake its general fairness) give us a good leader about the neglect shown by Congress to the interests of inventors, and we thereby mean the progress of good and useful improvements in science and art.

We would be quite willing and glad to see one wing, or two if they are required, devoted to an Agricultural Department, but we want all agricultural implements and applications for patents relating to the same, under its supervision. The farmer and mechanic go hand in hand in improvements, and they should not be separated in the Patent Office. But we don't want other business and other interests, apart from the patent relation, mixed up with the affairs of the Patent Office; and judging from the past, we believe, if the Interior Department appropriates any of the building to its uses, the time will come in a very few years, when the models will be piled up on the top of one another in the cellar, the same as they are now.


Scientific American, v 6 (os), no 28, p 221, 29 March 1851

Management of the Patent Office, and Mr. Burke

The past winter has witnessed some exciting scenes in Washington, relative to the bill which was before the Senate for altering the Patent Laws; relative to the efforts made by Mr. Ewbank, and relative to a singular revelation made by the ex-Commissioner of Patents -- the Hon. Edmund Burke. This revelation will be found on page 182 of the Scientific American, in the article by Mr. Burke, defining his position on the bill spoken of. A few words by you, Mr. Editor, commenting on one part of the said article, says, "this relates to the Woodworth Patent, we believe." Now what is said therein, which called forth such a remark? A most flagrant outrage by the Patent Office upon the rights of the whole body politic. Mr. Burke says, "when I was Commissioner, a patent was reissued, which, in my judgment, covers what the original patentee never invented nor claimed. It was done in my absence, and under circumstances which throw very dark suspicions over the propriety of the transaction, so far as the party, the Agent, and Examiner are concerned."

Without your remark, Mr. Editor, the public would have been somewhat in the dark about this. I have been informed that the party referred to are the owners of the Woodworth Patent; the Agent, Mr. C.M. Keller; the Examiner, Mr. Fitzgerald. Now, as the Commissioner of Patents is responsible for the acts of his subordinates, why did not Mr. Burke remove the Examiner who transacted this dark affair? If it is all true, it throws no little suspicion upon Mr. Burke; and if not true, it also throws some suspicion upon him. I am not acquainted with the facts of the case, but upon the points which I have noted the public require some statement from Mr. Burke to clear up the dark suspicions. The Examiner referred to is still in the Patent Office. If subordinate officers are permitted to do wrong, our government must be in a very bad condition respecting moral discipline. I do not know whether the charges mentioned are true or not, but this I know, if true, Mr. Burke has done wrong himself (for which I am not a little sorry, as I entertain for him a high respect, and Mr. Ewbank is now doing wrong; there is surely something decidedly wrong in the Patent Office. If Mr. Fitzgerald has done no wrong, he should clear himself, and perhaps he may be able to do this, but as the case now stands, the whole of the parties whose names I have mentioned, stand before the public in a very unenviable light.
Junius Redivivus


Scientific American, v 6 (os), no 42, p 333, 5 July 1851

Business at the Patent Office

It is an outrageous shame that applications for patents are suffered to linger in the dusty pigeon holes of the Patent Office 4, 5, and 6 months before any action is had upon them. Inventors, in many instances, who are subjected to this delay, often, we have no doubt, suffer in their interests very much. We know it is seriously aggravating to their feelings and many times they utter imprecations against the Commissioner and Examiners, which to say the least are unchristian-like and hence the office by such delay, if they do nothing more, increase the quantity of sinners, something that we should not like to be guilty of. In mitigation, however, we can justly assert that the Commissioner is not altogether chargeable with the fault, for hitherto the examining force of the office has been about one half that actually required by the present and prospective wants of the office. Recently, however, four assistant Examiners have been added to the office, but what are we to expect from their labors if, as the Herald says, one of them is a mere boy of 19 years of age? What confidence can we have in the decisions and opinions of a mere youth, who necessarily cannot have gained any considerable amount of practical information especially upon the Arts and Sciences? We recently had an evidence of some of this children's play (although we are not certain it did not emanate from one whose head is generously sprinkled with some of the evidences of decay). In a note accompanying a returned specification to this office, the Examiner says, "This screw nut will not work in the model where it must do, as it is made a part of the claim and there is no nut whatever." In the first place there is no sense in the sentence, and in the next place, if there was no nut attached to the model, it is a query to us how the Examiner could have tried to work it, as is inferred he did from the first clause of the sentence. We might instance other rich morceaux which emanate from some old growling Examiner, who finds fault with every thing not prepared strictly in accordance with his own notions. The Examiners of the Patent Office, although many of them are high minded and honorable, are yet evidently a long way behind the age -- specimens of learned dullness, and it seems to be a pity that the soapsuds of prescription fail to cleanse and renovate some of the apartments in this, one of the most important bureaus in the country. The decisions of the office in some instances are marked with a peculiar imbecility, and the moment you undertake to reverse them, a spirit of rancorous hostility commences -- and it seems almost impossible to touch the tender cords, or cause a solitary humane vibration. Honied words and sugar plums are gall and aloes. If you undertake to reach them by copying the argument from the most learned men of the age, a new and antagonistic theory comes forward as a rebutter. The sages and philosophers of this department have seldom, if ever, found their equals, but the credit does not seem to reach us.

We throw out these random shots for the purpose of eliciting attention to the interests of American inventors, whose money supports the office. It is unjust -- yes, cruel, to keep them suspended between hope and fear for so long a time. A farther increase of the examining force is loudly demanded, unless this shameful evil can be remedied. We hope these suggestions will do good. They are true whether they do or not.


Scientific American, v 6 (os), no 49, p 387, 23 August 1851

The Patent Office -- Its Architect

To the Editors of the Scientific American
Gentlemen: My attention has been drawn to an article, published in your valuable journal, under date of February 1, 1851, in relation to the Patent Office Building, erecting in this city. This article bears the following heading:

"History and Description of the U.S. Patent Office Building, Designed by W.P. Elliot, Architect and Engineer, of Washington, D.C."

Whoever is the author of this article has overlooked material facts in the case of this building, and thereby done great injustice to the bona fide architect of this building, Robert Mills.

The facts in the case are these: In 1836 a Plan of this building was presented to the Committee of Congress, by Town and Elliot, which, being approved, an appropriation was made of $110,000 to erect the portion of the building now occupied by the Patent Office. The bill, as passed by the Senate, contemplated a brick building, with wooden floors, filled in with brick; when the bill went into the House, the material for facing the walls was changed from brick to cut stone, but no change was made in the Appropriation List to provide for its additional cost, by the use of cut stone; in this shape it passed both Houses, and the whole subject was referred to the President of the United States. The plans were laid before the President, and he adopted, substantially, that presented by Town & Elliot, and I was appointed the Architect to carry out, substantially, this plan, according to the appropriations made by Congress.

When I commenced operations I was furnished by Town & Elliot with an outline plan, designating the foundations (of digging) for that portion required by the Office. (See Plan.)

When we were ready for laying the foundations, I called on the Commissioner of Public Buildings, with whom the drawings ought to have been left, to furnish me the plans as approved by the President, but no such plans were to be found, and, as they never came into my possession even to this day (fifteen years), I was compelled, de novo, to form plans of my own conception, following substantially the outline of that approved by the President; a large drawing, in perspective, of the whole facade was soon after made in my office for exhibition, first to the President, then to Congress, and which has been exhibited in both Houses of Congress, from time to time, ever since, and in the Patent Office proper.

I then proceeded with the work, arranged all the details externally and internally, according to the requirements of the office -- made the building thoroughly fire-proof by arching every story with brick, and was gratified in finding the accommodations proved satisfactory to the government business.

In 1849, the increasing business of the Patent Office, and the creation of a new Department (the Department of the Interior), to which was attached the Patent office as a bureau, demanded a further extension of this building, and Congress made the necessary appropriations to carry out the two wings of the same, according to the "original plan." The question of "the original plan" coming up in the Senate, I was compelled to present my plan to explain what were its requirements, this was satisfactory, and the appropriations passed. In the spring of 1849 I submitted plans of the interior arrangement for these wings to the Secretary of the Interior, which were approved, and I am now proceeding with the work (the east wing first), with the prospect that, before Congress shall assemble in December, to have all the office rooms prepared for the occupancy of the Secretary and his officers; there will also be a grand model room, 270 by 65 feet, and 30 feet high. After making all my plans, and, in a measure, setting upon all the details of the building, which have been for more than a year made public, I was not a little surprised to see in your journal of February last, the main features of my arrangement of this building exhibited in various plans engraved on its face, and not a word of the name or the services of the practical architect. Is this, Messrs. Editors, doing justice to me? I have always accorded the original inventors, or designers, of this plan of the Patent Office Buildings, the credit of the outline and the architectural order used, but as they never favored me with any plans of their views of the interior or the exterior of the building, I claim some little merit in the business of carrying out the plan of their satisfaction (as I understand), and also that of the public, and especially of the Government.

The only plans that were laid before the Committee, or the President, exhibited simply the arrangement of the second or principal floor, and it was of this character. (see Plan A). Nothing of the upper story arrangements was laid down; the only character of large rooms for models in the plan A were those on each side of the passage, at 1, 2, 3, 4, about 21 feet wide; whereas, in plan B, now exhibited, according to my arrangement, the whole width of the Model Rooms -- the vaulted ceilings being supported on columns, as shown in the plan. The principal, or third floor, throughout has been thrown into one Grand Exhibition Room, each section being 270 feet long, 64 feet wide, and 30 feet high, all vaulted with groin arches, supported on massive columns.

The original plan contemplated above, no doubt, the same arrangements as below, viz, long and narrow rooms on each side of the passage. This may be denied by your correspondents, but no evidence has been given otherwise, until February last, in your journal, after the lapse of fifteen years, and my plans made public.

My only object in making this communication is to exhibit facts to the public, the mind of which should be disabused, that justice should be meted to whom it is due.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant.
Robert Mills, Architect P.B.
City of Washington, D.C., August 1851


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