One fascinating way to look at our history is by studying the tools we have invented and used throughout the years. There is no better way to do this than by looking at the patent drawings we hold in the Cartographic Branch at the National Archives.
The majority of the patent drawings we have are found in Record Group 241: Utility Patent Drawings. There are about one million drawings in this series, ranging from the 1837 to 1911. These drawings give us a snapshot into what inventors were prioritizing and what cutting edge technology was like at the time.
While we look at what was invented or improved upon during this time period, it’s interesting to see early concepts for items that we now might take for granted. For example, when using a paper bag, you’re not likely to think about its history and various designs, but we can see these earlier ideas in patent drawings.
It’s also interesting to compare older object designs with their modern counterparts to see how they’ve evolved over time. An example of this is a baseball catcher’s equipment. Looking at a patent from 1904, it’s clear how much this design has changed:
Because the patents cover such a wide range of objects and devices, you are likely come across something unique while looking through the records, like the following patent:
Or this patent for a mustache guard:
Throughout the series of drawings, there are some easily recognizable and notable names and objects that appear on patents. For instance, Thomas Edison’s drawings show early designs for a light bulb:
A number of Nikola Tesla’s patent drawings are also seen in the series, like this one for his electric motor:
We also hold the patent for Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone:
Also found in the series is Abraham Lincoln’s patent for a buoying system for boats:
No matter what you’re looking for in the Utility Patent Drawings, you are sure to come across something interesting that offers a glimpse into our history and culture. To see more patents that have been digitized, you can visit our catalog here.