Archive for the ‘invention’ tag

Uncle Sam’s Patents Reach The Million Mark

From August 20, 1911


UNCLE SAM’S PATENTS REACH THE MILLION MARK: Francis H. Holton of Ohio Granted the Coveted Patent No. 1,000,000 for a Tack-Proof Pneumatic Automobile Tire — The First Patent Issued Was Also for an Improvement to the Wheel of a Moving Vehicle. (PDF)

The public radio program This American Life did a fantastic episode a few weeks ago about how the patent system is deeply flawed, at least where software patents are concerned. The episode aired almost exactly 100 years after the millionth patent was issued.

You can read Patent #1,000,000 here.

The first patent was issued in 1790. It took 121 years to get to patent number 1,000,000. It took just 24 more years to reach patent 2,000,000. And then 26 years to reach patent 3,000,000. Patent 4,000,000 was reached just 15 years later. And patents 5,000,000 and 6,000,000 took 15 years and then 8 years to reach. Patent 7,000,000 was reached 7 years later in 2006. We’re still waiting to reach patent 8,000,000. We just reached patent 8,000,000 three days ago, as noted in the comments by Raghav.


Written by David

August 19th, 2011 at 10:00 am

How A Great Invention By Edison Was Lost

From July 9, 1911


HOW A GREAT INVENTION BY EDISON WAS LOST: Separated Fiber by a Liquid Compound, But an Assistant Threw the Secret Away (PDF)

And the moral of the story is: backup backup backup.

Leave a comment

Written by David

July 4th, 2011 at 10:06 am

Posted in Science

Inventors Who Take No Profits From Their Work

From December 4, 1910


INVENTORS WHO TAKE NO PROFITS FROM THEIR WORK: Give the Results of their Skill and Study Without Charge for the Good of Mankind, Declining Royalties. (PDF)

Fans and practitioners of open source intellectual property and creative commons licensing can look to these inventors as their predecessors in spirit. Each of them donated their inventions to the public. In fact, if you look at the patent for Logan Waller Page’s new form of concrete, discussed in this article, you will see that it boasts on the first page “DEDICATED TO THE PUBLIC.” In the text it elaborates:

…the invention herein described and claimed may be used by the Government of the United States or any of its officers or employees… or by any person in the United States, without the payment of any royalty thereon.

So why get a patent at all? The article explains:

Patents for the public are becoming more numerous and important each year. It is only within the last few months that the Patent Office has established the official classification of “Dedicated to the Public” in its official gazette of patents, and has attempted to assemble the records of those discoveries and inventions that have been taken out for the benefit of the people of the United States.

These patents are secured to insure the free use of the patented object by the public. If such action were not taken the principle of the invention or discovery might at once be incorporated ins ome other invention and patented by another person, with the result that the benefits intended for the public would go to some private corporation.

*ahem* Speaking of open source inventions, allow me to tell you about one of my own: the Bulbdial Clock. It’s a new kind of clock original envisioned by me, developed by Evil Mad Science Labs, and now available as an open source hardware kit that makes an excellent gift for the holidays.

Leave a comment

Written by David

December 3rd, 2010 at 9:30 am

A Day’s Meal In A Can The Size Of A Cake Of Soap

From November 13, 1910


A DAY’S MEAL IN A CAN THE SIZE OF A CAKE OF SOAP: Commissary General Henry G. Sharpe Has Invented a New Half-Pound Emergency Ration for Our Soldiers (PDF)

Today’s military MRE (Meals Ready-to-Eat) is a descendant of this military meal in a can. The description is not exactly mouth-watering, but is a pretty entertaining read:

War breaks out, say, with the Japs, the Germans, or the bloomin’ British. Each Yankee brave in khaki has one of these cans of first-aid-to-the-empty dropped into his haversack, where it keeps fresh for months, and where it must be regularly accounted for at inspection until falls the unhappy day when the enemy cuts off the commissariat and the pabulum fails to show up.

Then each boy in drab, squatting by the good camp fire, grabs the loose end of the blue bandeau enwreathing the head of his can and gives her a twist. It works after the principle of the tin ribbon around the fragrant sardine can — only it really works.

From the package fall three slabs of something very like the brown cakes of chocolate that small children buy from train butchers and with which they delight to crumb up the plush seats of the passenger coaches…

I was treated to a sample bite of the new emergency ration by Gen. Sharpe — and one bite, you must remember, is equal in nutriment to one full course at one of President Taft’s state banquets. Taking the General’s advice to spoil my knife and spare my teeth, I hacked off with my trusty blade a square inch fragment which compensated me for the pie and cheese end of luncheon which, in my haste to meet the General, I had just foregone.

It tasted much like the popular brands of milk chocolate, but not so sweet.

Leave a comment

Written by David

November 12th, 2010 at 9:15 am

Posted in Science

Making Street Cars Comfortable

From October 9, 1910



Remember a couple years ago when the MTA announced they would be experimenting with standing room only subway cars during rush hour? Well, 100 years ago, an inventor pitched that very idea to a reporter at the Times Magazine.

“For example I have what I call the Rush-hour car. This pattern is without seats, but has a very liberal supply of straps for the comfort and convenience of passengers. In each of these cars the maximum load will be carried and they will be quite as comfortable to the standees as the ordinary seat-car is, if not more so, as each passenger will know and feel that he has as good accommodations as any other passenger.

“It is probable that only men will ride in them, but that will be an advantage rather than otherwise, for when the men have been carried away from congested points the ladies will have some chance to get seats in other cars.”

His other ideas include a telescoping subway car that extends during rush hour, a rubber car that stretches when overfilled, and a triple-decker subway car that requires passengers be stooped over because each level is too short to stand up straight in. Maybe the MTA will give those ideas a try.

Leave a comment

Written by David

October 8th, 2010 at 9:15 am

Posted in Development,Life

Freak Patents That Have Come In With The Aeroplane

From July 31, 1910


FREAK PATENTS THAT HAVE COME IN WITH THE AEROPLANE: Would-Be Inventors Keep the Department at Washington Busy With Schemes That Sound Flighty. (PDF)

The illustrations and descriptions of crazy flying contraptions that people applied for patents on (sometimes successfully) are fantastic. I managed to find one of the actual patents for a machine mentioned in the article that’s powered by birds. I think the technical drawings in the patent are even better than the illustrations shown here. Check it out. It’s powered by eagles!

Here’s how the article describes that invention:

From gay Paree comes Edouard Wulff, with a patented scheme for flying by means of “eagles, vultures, or condors.” True to the instincts of his native city, he fits out his birds with “corsets,” the specifications of which as to trimmings, binding, etc., are carefully set out.

By a strange oversight for one bred in the city of fashions, he fails to state what is the latest mode of wearing the feathers on his motors. With wise foresight he has provided for two aeronauts, one on top among the birds and the other below to steer the craft. This is sensible; a man busy prodding up a dozen uncouth and bewildered condors wouldn’t have much time for steering.

Not all of the inventions are outrageous in hindsight. The article takes a mocking tone at a proposed airship so big it has several floors and resembles a hotel, but of course we have multilevel jumbo jets today, some with luxury approaching that of hotels, so it wasn’t so far fetched.

Most of the invention descriptions in the article are too vague for me to find the original patents (if they truly even reached the application stage), but you can find a lot of this kind of thing using Google’s patent search engine. Here is a link to search “flying machine” or “airship” with results displayed visually in chronological order.

Leave a comment

Written by David

July 30th, 2010 at 10:15 am