Patent History Materials Index - Patent Materials from Scientific American, vol 112 (June 1915)

Scientific American, v 112, p 533, 5 June 1915

The Patent Office and Invention Since 1845
How the Government Has Kept Pace With the Inventor
By William I. Wyman

In 1845, the birth year of the Scientific American, the present patent system was nine years old. In 1836 the Patent Office was placed on a distinct basis, the system reorganized and the examination or American method of searching patents inaugurated.

Thomas Jefferson was the First Commissioner of Patents

The American patent system was founded under the act of 1790. Under this act the Secretary of State, the Secretary of War and the Attorney General constituted a board to consider all applications for patents. Thomas Jefferson, the first Secretary of State, was in effect the first Commissioner of Patents and the first Examiner. It is said that he personally examined into and determined the patentability of every application filed during his first years in office as head of the State Department. The grant of a patent then was not only a procedure of exceeding dignity, being signed by the President, the Secretary of State and the Attorney General, but was issued with some reluctance. Only three patents were permitted to see the light of day in 1790.

[Graph showing Increase of Population, Total Wealth, Value of Products and Annual Issue of Patents from 1850 to 1910

                                1850              1910

Population                     23,000,000           92,000,000

Total Wealth               $7,000,000,000     $125,000,000,000

Value of Products          $1,000,000,000      $20,000,000,000

Annual Issue of Patents               953               35,930]

From this modest beginning, the business of the patent system grew slowly, but steadily. From 1790 to 1802 it required but one State Department clerk to perform all the clerical work pertaining to the Patent Office, the entire records of which were contained in a dozen pigeonholes. Up to 1836, about 10,000 patents were granted. In that year, the Patent Office became an independent bureau, headed by a commissioner, assisted by one examiner and six other subordinate clerks and employees. While the reorganization gave the Office a dignity and standing it did not have before, still the force provided to cope with the pressing demands of inventors does not now appear to be excessively large. And yet critics, whose sense of economy was more acute than were their gifts of imagination, decried the sheer waste entailed by an organization so extravagant in men. But applications came pouring in, and din the following year the examining corps had to be doubled by the appointment of an additional examiner, and in 1839 the position of two assistant examiners was created to keep pace with the growing business.

      Patents,    Total      Per     Population      Value

      Total       Wealth    Capita                   of

      Issued to                                      Products

      that year

1850    7,000    7   Billion  $308   23   Million   1     Billion

1860   27,000   16   Billion   514   31.4 Million   1.885 Billion

1870   98,000   27*  Billion   750*  38.5 Million   3.400 Billion

1880  223,000   43   Billion   870   50   Million   5.3   Billion

1890  419,000   65   Billion  1036   62.6 Million   9.4   Billion

1900  640,000   88.5 Billion  1165   76   Million  13     Billion

1910  945,000  125*  Billion  1400*  92   Million  20.6   Billion

                * Estimated

The act of 1793 was the only one which provided for the grant of a patent without examination. In 1836 the modern examination system was instituted, by which a search through patents and publications was made to determine the question of novelty. This act also for the first time made a positive requirement for the inclusion of a claim in the specification in the following terms:

"He [the inventor] shall positively specify and point out the part, improvement or combination which he claims as his own invention or discovery."

The Early Days of the Present Patent Office

In 1836 the erection of the Patent Office was begun; the building was finished in 1840. This original structure forms the F Street wing of the present building. In 1845 the patent system was well on its way and the Office properly housed, with an official force of one commissioner, two examiners, and two assistant examiners. In that year, 1,246 new applications were filed, besides many caveats, and the work was becoming too heavy for this limited force to handle effectively. The condition became and continues to be chronic.

Even as early as 1850, only five years after the founding of the Scientific American and but fourteen years after the reorganization of the Patent Office, American inventions were numbered among the most notable produced. In 1857, this country issued over one third more patents than Great Britain, which at that time had a substantially greater population. In that year, the United States, with a population of 23,000,000 issued 2,910 patents, Prussia with almost 17,000,000 issued 48, while Russia, with 70,000,000 population, issued 24 patents. Commissioner Holt, in his annual report for that year, in reviewing the statistics, grows eloquent and philosophizes thus:

"As the light of liberty waxes dimmer, so does the inventive genius flag and dull space, until finally, amid the darkness of the political night which broods over Eastern lands, it is utterly extinguished."

The Ante-Bellum Period of American Invention

During this decade, the one immediately preceding the civil war, the stimulating influence of invention upon industry became noticeably apparent. Southern New England was tending to become a gigantic workshop and the character of entire sections of New York and Pennsylvania and Ohio radically changed from agricultural to industrial communities. The invention of the sewing machine -- the greatest labor-saving device of the age -- was of itself a tremendous stimulus, and the opening up of the West through the railroad meant activity in iron production and the basic engineering industries. The reaper and the thresher made the opening up of the West profitable and the inventions in firearms, machine tools, locks and labor-saving devices and textile machinery initiated new industries and accelerated the growth of the country by leaps and bounds. By the time the civil war broke upon the country, only a quarter of a century after the inauguration of the present patent system, and in spite of the pre-eminently agricultural character of her pursuits, this country gave every evidence that she was to be among the first of the industrial nations.

After the Civil War

The distracting period of the civil war over, activity in enterprise increased energetically, and in the year after the civil war closed there were filed in the office over three times as many applications as were filed in 1861. During the war, the Bessemer process was developing, and the influence of this most stimulating of inventions, which inaugurated the age of steel and our present intensive industrial era, became felt not long after its close. Then began a period of true national expansion -- the further developing of the West, with strenuous enterprise in reaching out with new railroads, building of steel mills and locomotive works -- marking an inflation of energy, industry and finance, which culminated in the severe panic of 1873. The country paused for a little while and took account of stock at the great Centennial Exposition in 1876. The wonders of our material advance, practically all of which were induced by invention, such as the Corliss engine, the textile machines, woodworking tools, machine tools, the sewing machine, hydraulic machinery and various kinds of automatic appliances, were there spread out for inspection to demonstrate the ingenuity of the American inventor and the intimate relation existing between him and what was making American development.

[Graph entitled "How the number of patents has increased year by year."]

[Graph entitled "Diagram showing the increase of United States patents for each five years" and "The most fertile fields of invention".]

The period from 1865 to 1880 gave inkling of the dawn of a radically new era. The electrical age was prognosticated in the dynamos of Gramme, Siemens and Brush, the Bell telephone and the arc lamp. But they left no impress upon industry or the social life of the time until the next period got into swing. From 1867 to 1879, the annual number of applications remained stationary and averaged about 20,000 per year, but about the time specie payments were resumed, the country appeared to take on a new lease of life. In 1867, 21,276 applications were filed, and in 1879, 20,050; in the next year (1880) the number increased to 23,042, and in 1889 reached 40,575, more than double the number filed ten years before. In that decade the country literally jumped forward and inventive ingenuity reached the golden age of its activity. For more exhaustive treatment of this decade the reader is referred to the editorial page of this issue.

The present commissioner, Hon. Thomas Ewing, in his endeavor to conserve the vast benefits the Patent Office has conferred upon the American people, has instituted several reforms to overcome some of the abuses which have gradually crept into the practice and grown by degrees to menacing proportions. Among these is the tendency to initiate unnecessary interferences. They are now being reduced in number whenever it is possible without injury to anyone's rights, and thus avoid litigious proceedings and lessen the financial burden upon the inventor. They are a source of delay and expense to the applicants and constitute an involved and burdensome handicap which has sometimes been laid heavily upon the shoulders of a meritorious inventor.

Another innovation concerns the rights of the public at large and relates to an abuse of privilege on the part of those inventors who desire to delay the issue of their patents to prolong their life. In court practice, no matter how important the stake, an issue is soon reached upon which the case may go to trial. But until the famous decision in ex parte Miller and the issuance of the orders to the present commissioner, by which every dilatory prosecuted case is made special and is treated by him personally, through his supervisory authority, such coming to an issue could be delayed indefinitely. This, the greatest of all abuses of privileges on the part of applicants, is in a fair way to be effectively remedied.

The Advent of the Hired Inventor

The larger concerns have in connection with their patent departments or in association with them research laboratories with a corps of highly trained engineers and scientific assistants. Every improvement of a patentable nature, if of proved utility or possible merit, becomes the subject matter of an application, not only for the monopoly that a patent may bring, but also as a protection to its manufacture and as a matter of record. The patent department advises the technicians whether a proposed device may be patented, or whether it infringes an existing patent, and also appraises the validity and value of patents offered to the company for sale. The experimental department will try out new ideas or develop them to some conclusion. Many of the big ideas now come through these organizations, for frequently in the evolution of an art, an instrumentality may be so complex, require the expenditure of so much skill and money to develop and demonstrate, that only a company with large resource is able to handle the proposition. Thus, the General Electric Company took several years, plus an expenditure of a few million dollars, to develop the Curtis turbine. It is by no means uncommon for a promoter to spend over $100,000 to develop a process or apparatus so it will be marketable. Edison, who, if not incorporated, is a host to himself, frequently spent thousands upon thousands in investigation and has made experiments by the hundreds before he was in a position to announce results. There are some devices which are so intricate in design, notably type setting and casting machines, that anywhere from a quarter to one million dollars may be expended in construction and improvement, in trials and changes, only to prove eventually, what could not possibly be determined in advance, that it could not meet the various requirements demanded in commercial practicability. Mark Twain sank his personal fortune of several hundred thousands in a typesetting device, probably the most intricate bit of mechanism ever devised, because, while the machine did everything ti was designed to do, it was too intricate to be understood by the ordinary mechanic.

Then again, the device may be simple enough, its merits sufficiently obvious, but it may require more business acumen, push and advertising to introduce it than would be required to market an article of staple and competitive character, or sometimes, no character at all. A well-known instance of this inertia on the part of the public is the case of a certain safety razor, which required prodigious efforts on the part of its promoters to eventually get the public to use what appeared to be a self-evident filling of a long-felt want. No inventor can afford to create without the protection of the patent laws, because the labor and expense he is placed under preliminary to establishing the utility of his invention becomes a fixed charge and the very means to handicap him against a piratical competitor, who can start without such a burden.

The Infinite Possibilities That Lie in Invention

In 1844 Commissioner Ellsworth, contemplating the 13,500 patents granted up to that year, over 500 of which were issued in the year 1843, and apprehending a cessation of all endeavors in the field of invention, uttered this prediction in his official report: "The advancement of the arts, from year to year, taxes our credulity and seems to presage the arrival of that period when human improvement must end." The commissioner could well marvel at the astonishing advances made in labor-saving devices during his own life time, but what would have been his mental state could he have been endowed with prophetic vision and have foreseen but a fraction of the inventive activity which has taken place in a man's lifetime from the date of his utterance? The number of patents now is over a million, the annual issue is more than three times the number of all the patents granted up to his day, and the examining corps has increased from four to almost four hundred without being able to keep pace with the ever growing tide of new work. It is estimated that the value of American manufactures attributable directly or indirectly to patentable inventions amounts to the enormous total of more than twenty billion dollars, which is about four times the value of all taxable property in the United States at the time Commissioner Ellsworth made his report.

[Copy of 1795 patent, with caption "The first patents were signed by President George Washington]

It has been said that the single invention of producing steel by the Bessemer process doubled, directly or through its influence, the world's wealth in the third of a century after its introduction. The forcing effect of patent protection on industry is well illustrated in the cases of such branches as are directly based upon invention, and which did not exist or were in a negligible state in 1880.

              Statistics for the Year 1809

Some of the Industries Called into Existence since 1880

                 Establish-   Persons   Output        Value added

                   menets     engaged   annually      by mfr.

Phonographs           18       5,928   $11,728,000     $8,667,000

Photo Apparatus      103       6,596    22,561,000     15,853,000

Cash Registers        50       9,491    23,708,000     20,156,000

Typewriters           89      12,101    19,719,000     15,642,000

Autos                743      85,359   219,253,000    117,506,000

The figures in the last column are particularly significant as they show the very high percentage added to the cost of raw materials by the process of manufacture, i.e., by the knowledge, skill and labor of the producers.

More astounding are the figures relating to the electrical industries, including telephony, central station lighting and power, and electric railways, the latest figures available showing an investment in the United States alone of seven billion dollars, annual gross revenues or sales of over a billion, in which three quarters of a million men were engaged, at an annual pay-roll of over three hundred and fifty million dollars. These industries were either non-existent in 1880 or in their incipient stages at that time. Their origins and every advance therein were directly founded on inventions, every one of which is patented and of record in the Patent Office.

The Trend of Invention

The activity of the different classes in the Patent Office from time to time reflects accurately the changes which constantly pass in the world of industry and the applied arts. The basic pursuit in this country always being the tilling of the soil, patents for agricultural implements have occupied a prominent position, both in numbers and importance throughout its history. The invention of the sewing machine initiated a period of great activity in a new art, while the telephone let loose a flood of inventions for adaptations and improvements. The new electro-chemical industry came into being about the middle of the eighties and patent activity with relation thereto was high at the same time. The incandescent lamp started the electrical age, in whose vortex we still are, and patent concern in all things electrical is still intensive. The rise and fall of the bicycle, the wave of interest in automatic car couplings, the first surgings of activity in aeroplane invention, and the deep concern of the great ingenious to solve the urgent non-refillable bottle problem -- all these movements have been reflected in the filing of applications in the Patent Office. In recent years the automobile is establishing records, the arts relating to internal combustion motors, carburetors, gearing, self starters, accessories, alloy steels and heat treatment of steels being specially active.

The United States has by far the proudest record in the field of invention: whether reckoning by the number of pioneer products, their ingenuity, or their far-reaching effects in the greatest diversity of fields, she easily stands in the first place. Particularly in labor-saving devices does she stand foremost. No on in all history has worked so hard to save labor as the Yankee. The greatest of all labor saving devices, the sewing machine, is his, and outside of textile machinery, practically all the great advances in this department have been of his invention, as witness the cotton gin, the reaper, shoe-machinery, typewriter and typesetting machines.

In the field of electricity the American shares pre-eminence with Europeans, and yet the three must signal advances in electrical application are to his credit -- the telegraph, telephone, and the incandescent lamp. Since 1880 (the typewriter was invented a few years previously) no revolutionary mechanical invention comparable to those which signaled American ingenuity previously, was devised except the typesetting machine, but in the field of electricity (incandescent lamp, trolley car, electric welding), optics (kinetescope, transparent film) and air navigation (an absolutely new art(, he did not remain inactive.

Some Prolific Inventors

Between 1872 and 1900, Thomas Edison had received 742 patents; F.H. Richards, 619; Elihu Thomson, 444; Charles E. Scribner, 374; L.C. Crowell, 293; Edward Weston, 280; R.M. Hunter, 276; Charles J. Van Depoele, 245; and George Westinghouse, 239. Up to 1910 Edison secured 905 patents, of which 713 were electrical. Considering all the patents that are probably pending or in course of preparation, it is estimated that the number of his inventions is greater than 2,000. It is safe to assert that he is the most prolific inventor of all time.

Although Great Britain has more pioneer inventions to her credit involving fundamental operations that underlie all industry, than any other country, the only innovations of pioneer character she has contributed in the last one half century are the basic processes for making steel, the steam turbine, and the cyanide process. But the steam engine, the greatest invention of all ages, is hers, and so is the Bessemer process, which inaugurated our present intensive industrial era.

Germany before 1871 was an almost negligible factor in the field of applied science, although she had previously to that date given ample evidence of her vigor in pure science. The adoption of a patent system based upon that of the United States, was an extreme stimulus to invention, and the impetus given to inventiveness is shown by the large number of very important contributions she has devised in the last 35 years, and the increasing number of patents, she has taken out in this country in recent years, now exceeding those applied for by any other foreign nation. To her sons is due the gas engine, the gasoline motor; the crude oil engine (Diesel motor); the automobile; the Welsbach lamp; the Tungsten lamp; the X-ray machine; the utilization of blast furnace gases for operation of gas engines; the superheating of steam in locomotive practice; the synthesis of indigo; the contact method of making sulphuric acid; the Goldschmidt thermit process, and the innumerable and radical innovations in dye making, drugs, and chemicals.

An interesting confirmation of the changing character of our population may be made by comparing the names of inventors prominent in the earlier periods of the country's history with those which are found frequently scattered through the later additions of the Official Gazette. Fulton, Whittemore, Bigelow, Blanchard, Hoe, Campbell, Ames, Fairbanks, Howe, Colt, McCormick, etc., testify to the complete Anglo-Saxon predominance of former times, while such names as Bettendorf, Mergenthaler, Pupin, Tesla, Christensen, Doherty, Frasch, Gallagher, Conner, Monnot, Krakau, Mesta, Steinmetz, Sauveur, and Lindenthal, which are abundantly sprinkled among the names listed in recent Official Gazettes, offer proof of the leavening that is going on in all departments of American life.


Scientific American, v 112, p 540+, 5 June 1915

Seventy Years of the Scientific American

How the Scientific American was founded and how it grew from very small beginnings: the active part played by its editors in stimulating public interest in science and invention

[Two portraits, entitled "Alfred Ely Beach, Founder of Munn & Co." and "Orson Desaix Munn, Founder of Munn & Co."]

To picture adequately the part which the Scientific American has played for nearly seventy years would necessitate the writing of a complete history of modern science. So interwoven is the career of the greatest popular scientific paper ever published with the great discoveries and inventions that each issue, beginning with September 7th, 1845, may be regarded as a cross-section of the scientific knowledge of the day.

The Scientific American as we know it today is a monument to the untiring energy and enthusiasm of Mr. Orson D. Munn and Mr. Alfred E. Beach, who composed the original partnership of Munn & Co.

Mr. Beach had been brought up in the offices of the New York Sun, of which his father, Moses Yale Beach, was the proprietor. It was but natural that the first office of Munn & Co. should have been located in the old Sun Building, on the corner of Fulton and Nassau streets, in New York City.

The first issue, which bears the date September 7th, 1845, was about as large as a modern daily newspaper. There were only four pages. That first issue boldly declares that "The Scientific American is the advocate of industry and the journal of mechanical and other improvements." Apparently there was not much industry to advocate or many mechanical improvements to record: for the editor found space enough to publish poetry, dissertations on temperance, and brief articles on such curious topics as "The Utility of Tribulation," "The Evil Influence of Fashion," "Street Beggars," "Oriental Servility," and "Church Benevolence."

When the Scientific American was first published the great achievements of the century were Davy's discovery of the electric arc light and of electrolysis; Oersted's and Ampere's electro-dynamic discoveries; Daguerre's method of photographing; Henry's and Faraday's discoveries in induction; and Joule's determination of the mechanical equivalent of heat.

Restraining the Advertiser

As interesting historically as the editorial pages are the advertising columns of the Scientific Americana. Among the first advertisements that appeared was one of Adams & Co., offering to transmit "valuable packages and parcels of every description" from Philadelphia to New York at the unprecedented rate of three days. The modern kodak advertisement finds its counterpart in advertisements of apparatus for making daguerrotypes. By 1849 the advertisements had increased so alarmingly that the publishers considered it their duty to apologize in the issue of May 5th, 1849 for printing the unpardonable number of two and one half columns of advertising. To restrain the advertiser as much as possible, there appeared for some years at the head of the advertising section of the Scientific American a notice (it was almost a warning) that read:

One square of eight lines, 50 cents for each insertion.

One square of 12 lines, 75 cents for each insertion

One square of 16 lines, $1 for each insertion

Advertisements should not exceed sixteen lines, and cuts cannot be inserted in connection with them at any price.

Time and increasing importance of advertising in modern journalism changed that haughty attitude. "Display copy," as it is now called, was accepted in any amount in the late seventies.

It is curious the way in which firms, then small but now colossal, announced their readiness to serve the public. The Lamb Knitting Machine Company, the Otis Elevator Company, Jones & Laughlin, the American Bell Telephone Company, the Westinghouse Company, corporations now of international importance, stated the nature of their business with the formal politeness and ceremonious phraseology of a wedding invitation. Later, when the psychological effect of advertising was better understood, they became more direct, more personal in their appeal. One of the pioneers in that direction was George B. Eastman, who selected the Scientific American as the first medium in which to advertise the kodak.

How the Patent Department was Created

Because it was the only scientific paper of its kind, the offices soon became a meeting place for inventors. Out of this intimate relation sprang the necessity of creating a special department for inventors, a department to give advice on the patenting of inventions and on patent law. From its very inception that department has proved the most successful patent agency ever established. Among its clients have been such distinguished men as Samuel F.B. Morse, inventor of the telegraph; Elias Howe and A.B. Wilson, famous for their sewing machine inventions; Capt. James B. Eads, the distinguished builder of the great Mississippi bridge; Capt. John Ericsson, designer of the "Monitor"; Dr. R.J. Gatling, inventor of the Gatling gun; Peter Cooper Hewitt, inventor of the mercury arc light; Cornelius Vanderbilt, Col. J.J. Astor, Dr. Leo Baekeland, the chemist; Henry Guy Carlton, the dramatist, and Thomas A. Edison.

Some of the inventions patented by these men and others have been noteworthy. Among them may be mentioned the mercury arc light, the centrifugal snow plow, the kodak, the Murray page-printing telegraph, the Edison telegraph improvements, the Livingston radiators, the Harshorn shade roller, Emerson's Bromo-Seltzer.

Is it any wonder that inventions which have proved the foundations of great industries were thus brought to the notice of the publishers of the Scientific American, long before the general public, or even the Patent Office, ever heard of them?

A.B. Wilson and the Sewing Machine

Thus, one day, A.B. Wilson, a journeyman cabinet maker, came from Pittsfield, Mass., to lay before the Scientific American the model of a sewing machine. He had been derided by his neighbors, all of whom regarded it as rather foolish to sew by machine. His invention proved to be a distinct improvement in the art, and its four-motion feed, eventually embodied in the Wheeler & Wilson sewing machine, made its inventor wealthy. The world first heard of it through the Scientific American of November 24th, 1849.

Thomas A. Edison, too, was a visitor in the early days of his brilliant career. In 1877, he came to the office and placed before the editors a small machine about which he offered a very few preliminary remarks. He turned a crank, and, to the astonishment of everyone present, the machine said: "Good morning. How do you do? How do you like the talking box?" That was the first public audience to which the modern phonograph ever addressed itself. So, too, the Scientific American editors, were among the first who ever saw the electric incandescent lamp, the kinetoscope, the Edison dynamo, and the score of famous inventions with which the name Edison is now identified.

Alfred E. Beach's Scientific American Tunnel

The proprietors of the Scientific American took more than a journalistic interest in invention. One of them, Mr. Alfred Ely Beach, was an inventor of note himself. To him we owe one of the first really successful typewriters and the first practical attempt at tunneling by means of a shield.

It was the transportation problem of New York, a problem which seems to have given as much concern in 1845 as it does now, that aroused the interest of the Scientific American in the possibility of constructing rapid transit subways. When hardly four years ago, the Scientific American began the agitation of a rational engineering solution of New York's problem. In the issue of November 3rd, 1849, appeared an editorial entitled "An Underground Railroad in Broadway," in which we read:

"The plan is to tunnel Broadway through the whole length with openings in stairways at every corner. The subterranean passage is to be laid down with a double track with a road for foot passengers on either side -- the whole to be brilliantly lighted with gas. The cars, which are to be drawn by horses, will stop ten seconds at every corner, thus performing the trip up and down, including stoppages, in about an hour."

Year after year the Scientific American, in company with the newspapers of the day, berated the city authorities for their negligence in providing adequate transportation. Finally, Mr. A.E. Beach determined to attack the problem himself. Time and time again he had advocated the construction of a subway, only to be derided in the public press. His proposals must have been very exciting for the New York Times, in its issue of March 15th, 1869, protested:

"It is said that the city is quite likely to grant a charter to build what is called an arcade railroad under Broadway. We would scarcely believe it. When this wild scheme was dismissed a year or two ago, we hoped and believed that we had heard the last of it -- and so did everybody else."

Eventually Mr. Beach secured legislative authority to build a pneumatic tube from Warren to Cedar Street through which parcels were to be blown from one end to the other.

Obtaining a franchise meant the paying of tribute to the politicians of the day. Mr. Beach, therefore, determined to build his subway furtively, without the formality of asking for a franchise. In six nights, a gang of men had secretly dug out a tunnel extending from Broadway and Warren Street to Broadway and Murray Street. The dirt was carried to the cellar of a structure that occupied the site on which the Rogers-Peet Building now stands, and dumped there. A Tribune reporter, disguised as a workman, gained access to the subway. On the following day his paper published a complete exposure of the scheme. New York shared Horace Greeley's astonishment and indignation. To counteract the Tribune's attack, and to prove to the public that the scheme was not utterly impracticable, Mr. Beach decided to throw the subway open to the public and to permit a general inspection of the tunnel with its car and the big machine that blew the car from one end of the tunnel to the other. An admission fee of 25 cents was charged, and the proceeds were given to charity.

What New Yorkers saw is thus described in the Scientific American of February 19th, 1870.

"Let the reader imagine a cylindrical tube, eight feet in the clear, backed up and white washed, neat, clean, dry, and quiet. Along the bottom of the tube is laid a railroad track, and on this track runs a spacious car, richly upholstered, well lighted, and with plenty of space for exit. The whole arrangement is as comfortable and cozy as the front basement dining-room of a first-class city residence. The tunnel has not only the positive comforts described, but is absolutely free from the discomforts of surface car travel. The track is single and level. It is not cold in winter. It will be delightfully cool in summer .... The air will be constantly changed by the action of the blowing machine. The filthy, health-destroying, patience-trying street dust, of which uptown residents get not only their fill, but more than their fill, so that it runs over and collects on their hair, their beards, and eyebrows, and floats on their dress like the vapor on a frosty morning, will never be found in the tunnel."

For a year the car traveled back and forth beneath Broadway. It was Mr. Beach's intention to excavate the whole length and breadth of Broadway, to lay his tracks, and to restore the street by building a roof over the trench -- a complete anticipation of the "cut and fill" method which was actually adopted in construction of the present subway, many years afterward. New York was convinced. The Times ended by approving the system. But when Mr. Beach tried to have a bill passed authorizing him to complete his scheme, he found himself face to face with Tammany Hall. His bill was passed, but so was a Tammany bill, authorizing the construction of an elevated railway at a cost of five million dollars, to be paid out of the city treasury. A Tammany Governor vetoed the Beach measure and signed the Tammany bill. The newspapers that had at first bitterly opposed the subway were in a rage. There was nothing for it but to close the short tunnel that had actually been build single-handed by the editor of the Scientific American.

After this experience, it is not astonishing ....

The Scientific American and its Subscribers

From the very inception of the Scientific American, the editor and the subscribers have been more closely connected than is usual, even in these days of paternal magazine editing. The periodical was always regarded by the publishers as something more than a mere commercial venture. They have always felt that they owed a duty to the subscribers, and a duty that did not end in giving an amount of printed matter equivalent in value to the price of an annual subscription. Accordingly, no letter asking the editor for information is allowed to go unanswered. Often the response entails an amount of research worth many times the amount of the subscription. As a mark of appreciation of the services thus rendered, Mr. T.R. Rowman of Adelaide, South Australia, voluntarily presented the Scientific American with a gold medal in 1899. The letter that accompanies his gift, which is probably unique in the history of magazine publishing, reads:

"I forward this trifle to the editor of the Scientific American as a souvenir of thanks for the many favors, information, and instruction I have derived from the perusal of the Scientific American for the last twenty seven years; also for your kindness in giving me at different times information by letter."

For several decades the Scientific American stood practically alone in the particular field which it covered. Launched in a new country, destitute of great libraries, great museums, or great universities, it served to a limited degree, it may be, but with distinct success, the purposes of all three. Not a few of the men who stand at the head of the great industrial institutions of the United States recall the hopeful days of their boyhood and their young manhood, when their chief source of Instruction in the great happenings of that world in which they were about to make venture was the Scientific American. Thousands of men who are now engineers and manufacturers received their first inkling of mechanical electrical engineering from the pages of the Scientific American. Thomas A. Edison has related that as a boy he used to walk three miles every week to get his Scientific American. For nearly seventy years, issue after issue has explained with a simplicity that has appealed to every earnest student, as familiar with the phraseology of more technical periodicals and books, how dynamos, galvanometers, batteries, telescopes, steam engines, lathes and wireless apparatus are constructed and how they operate. ...

The New Home of the Scientific American

Although it has grown healthily during the seventy years of its existence, the Scientific American has occupied but five different buildings. The first home of Munn & Co., as we have said, was located in the old Sun Building, which then stood at the southwest corner of Fulton and Nassau streets. There the paper prospered for a number of years until the old quarters were found too small, particularly for the patent soliciting department. New and commodious offices were, therefore, secured in the original New York World Building, at 37 Park Row, at the corner of Beckman Street, to which location the publication was moved in 1859, and this was its home until January 31, 1882, when the building was completely destroyed by fire. Practically all the valuable records and papers that had been accumulating for years were lost. ...

Patent Office Salaries and Expenses Seventy Years Ago

The seventieth anniversary of the Scientific American leads us to compare the expenses of the Patent Office seventy years ago with those of last year. The Patent Office salaries in 1845 amounted to $15,545.29 and $4,007.09 was paid to temporary clerks, and the total expense of running the Office, including postage, library, compensation of district judge and $2,392,41 for agricultural statistics, amounted to only $31,172.32; and even with such a small expense the Office earned a net balance of $11,680.49 to be credited to the Patent Fund, which even at that early day was of respectable proportions.

For the year ending December 31st, 1914, the Patent Office salaries amounted to $1,307,092.13 and its total expenditures were $2,000,700.12, with a net surplus for the year of $251,122.70.

In his report dated January, 1846, the then Commissioner of Patents said:

"I will embrace the opportunity to state that I have received from Prof. Morse an interesting account of the different magnetic telegraphs now in operation in Europe made up from materials obtained by personal examination. I am happy to say that Prof. Morse's own brilliant invention by which thought is converged with the rapidity of the lightning flash is eminent over all others of a similar character now in use in Europe."

The Scientific American and the Planing Mill Monopoly.

In the early days of the last century William Woodward, an old carpenter familiarly known as "Uncle Billy" in his hometown of Poughkeepsie, N.Y. invented a machine for planing lumber. This machine was provided with rotary cutters and feed roll. A patent was granted to Woodward in 1828 on his planing mill. But being entirely inexperienced in pushing his invention, he could do nothing with it, in face of the strong opposition of carpenters, who saw in the invention nothing but a means of robbing them of their living. Indeed, he had to watch his machine carefully lest it be burned by the hostile journeymen carpenters.

In those days the term of the patent was fourteen years, but by special act of Congress, the term could be extended seven years more if the inventor could show that he had made no adequate profit out of his invention. This William Woodward was obliged to do in 1842. Shortly after, he succeeded in selling his invention to a group of men, each being assigned a certain territory. These men, however, combined their interests and fixed the terms upon which the planing mill could be used. No machines were sold, but in each district a few machines were leased under a contract which bound the lessee to charge a certain fixed price for the work done by his machine. By this means a firm grip upon the lumber industry of this country was obtained. It was impossible for hand labor to compete with the machine, and practically all the business in dressed lumber was thus put under the control of the planing mill trust.

In 1845 the original Woodward patent was surrendered and reissued. In 1849, when it was due to expire, sufficient influence was exerted upon Congress to prolong the patent for another seven years, even though it could hardly be claimed that the patent had not proved a profitable investment. There was a storm of protest all over the country, which mattered little, for the extension had already been granted. However, preparations were made to prevent any further extensions of the patent.

In 1856, which was the year in which the second extension of the patent was due to expire, it was evident that influences were at work to have Congress grant a third extension. At this juncture the Scientific American took a hand in the fight. It was a young journal at the time, but already it had a long and influential list of subscribers. It began an attack upon the Woodward interests in a series of editorials, and sent out form letters of protest to all its subscribers for their signatures and those of their friends. The patent was due to expire on the 26th of December. Early in December a bill was introduced in Congress for the further extension of the Woodward patent during a term of seven years. The planing mill interests had their lobby workers busily engaged and it was rumored that money was being spent freely. It looked as if nothing could overcome the determined efforts of the Woodward patent. It was then that the protest prepared by the Scientific American was brought in. It was a huge document, "as big as a roll of carpet," they say, containing the signatures of between fourteen and fifteen thousand citizens. It was never read, but it was spread out on the floor and measured with a tape line. The document was found to be fifty feet long and contained two columns of closely written names. That was enough for Congress. The bill died, and the planing mill monopoly came to an abrupt end.


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