Every year, the US Patent and Trademark Office issues thousands of patents. In fact, just last year they issued patent 11 million. Patents are an incredibly important part of the economy. They prevent anyone else from making, distributing, or selling an invention without permission for a set period of time. Inventors and innovators race to be the first to file a patent for new inventions. Patents are far older than most people think. The first patent recognized is from 1421. The government in Florence issued it for a new style barge. Patents are important enough that the Founding Fathers of the United States included patents in the Constitution. The Patent Office was created in 1790, and US Patent Number 1 was issued.
The First US Patent
The first US Patent was issued in 1790, not long after the US Patent and Trademark Office was created. George Washington signed the patent on July 31, 1790. A copy of the patent is below.
The First US Patent was issued to Samuel Hopkins. He created a new recipe for potash. Potash is a mix of minerals and chemicals used in fertilizer. It’s pretty interesting that the first patent granted in the United States was for fertilizer. It highlights that the US was mainly agrarian when the country was first founded. Farmers are still using potash in their fertilizer to this day.
1790 had only 3 patents issued. The second patent, applied for by Joseph Sampson, was for a new way to manufacture candles. The last, applied for by Oliver Evans, was for an automated flour mill.
Despite how few patents were issued that first year, Americans are an inventive people and applications for patents quickly piled up. The young government placed all the records in temporary storage. A new records building was in the process of being built in 1836 to handle the mass of paperwork. The temporary storage caught on fire, destroying nearly all the records in one fell swoop.
The Second US Patent Number 1
With the original warehouse of documents gone, the US Patent and Trademark Office started a numbering system. The Office designated all patents before this point as X patents. You can see the X-number listed in the top right corner of the image above. So the US Patent and Trademark Office issued the “Second” first US Patent to John Ruggles. This is “US Patent Number 1”. Ruggles designed traction wheels for locomotives. The Office granted the patent to him on July 13, 1836. His wheels helped the train to keep traction in bad weather, rather than slipping on the rails.
Thankfully, recordkeeping is much more secure and there is little chance of Ruggles losing his US Patent Number 1 designation.
Want to hear more about the hidden history of everything?
Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter!