Historical Patents


In two hundred years of existence, the U.S. Patent Office has issued nearly five million patents, which together document the greatest industrial development in human experience.

How did it all start? To whom and for what was the first U.S. patent issued?

 Samuel Hopkins, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania , received Patent No. 1 on July 31, 1790, for an improvement “in the making Pot ash and Pearl ash by a new Apparatus and Process.” The patent was signed by President George Washington, Attorney General Edmund Randolph, and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson. Only two other patents were granted that year, one for a new candle-making process and the other the flour-milling machinery of Oliver Evans.
1836: Sen. John Ruggles of Maine receives a patent for a “locomotive steam-engine for rail and other roads.”
1840: Samuel Morse receives a patent for the telegraph.
1849: Abraham Lincoln, then a congressman from Illinois, receives a patent for a “device for buoying vessels over shoals.” He remains the only U. S. president to receive a patent.
1868: Christopher Sholes receives a patent for a typewriter.
1871: Samuel Clements (Mark Twain) receives a patent for an improvement in “adjustable and detachable straps for garments.”
1873: Louis Pasteur of Paris receives a patent for “improvements in the process of making beer.”
1878: Thomas Edison receives a patent for a “phonograph or speaking machine.”
1880: Thomas Edison receives a patent for “an electric lamp for giving light by incandescence.”
1885: Sarah Goode is one of the first black women to obtain a patent, for a “folding cabinet bed.”
1893: Whitcomb Judson receives a patent for a zipper
1906: Orville and Wilbur Wright receive a patent for certain “new and useful improvement in flying machines.”
1921: Harry Houdini receives a patent for his “driver’s suit.”
1923: Garrett Morgan receives a patent for his “traffic signal.”
1930: Albert Einstein receives, with his co-inventor, a patent for “an apparatus for producing refrigeration.”
1988: The first animal patent is issued to Harvard University, covering a mouse that is designed to radically improve the
process of detecting cancer-reproducing substances.