Horsepower! We hear this common phrase everyday associated with everything from cars to lawn mowers to available human capital. It’s all about power and the power to get things done. While today the term “horse power” typically refers to the power of an engine in a car or truck and is a single, compound word, in the past it was two words that literally referred to how much power a single horse could supply. If anyone is curious, the definition of “horsepower” is “a unit of power equal to 550 foot-pounds per second (745.7 watts),” according to Dictionary. com. In other words, if you took a horse, exerting exactly 1 horsepower and put it on a treadmill, it could produce 745.7 watts of energy continuously.
We can see many examples of the the application of “horse power” in RG 241: Restored Patents. This series is particularly interesting because of it’s unique background. In 1836, the Patent Office was being housed in the Blodget Hotel in Washington, D.C. Employees of the patent office stored firewood in the basement near where they also disposed of hot ashes and, during the early hours of December 15th, 1836, the ashes ignited the firewood and caused the devastating blaze. Though an attempt was made by the local fire brigade to put the fire out, old equipment and lack of personnel were no match for the conflagration. In all, it is believed that around 10,000 patents drawings and around 7,000 patent models were lost in the fire. Of these, 2,845 of these patents have been restored, meaning that the inventor resubmitted a drawing to the patent office. These early patents, issued between 1790 and 1836, are now referred to as “X-Patents” (denoting their serial numbers, which all include the letter “X”) and currently reside in the holdings of the Cartographic Branch of the National Archives, located in College Park, MD.
The idea of getting things done seems to have been at the forefront of many an inventor’s mind in the early to mid- 1800s. Some of the patents show the concrete use of a horse to produce horsepower, while some have devised other means of applying the concept of horsepower not actually involving a horse. Whether you enjoy these patents for the ideas or for the artistic value of the images themselves, they give us a peek into a time very different from our own. Enjoy!
(*Note: The digitization of this series is ongoing, and some of these images are not yet available through the catalog. Please check back often as new images are frequently being added!)
And, just one more because, even though “Horse Power” isn’t in the title, it’s a clear application of it’s use (and a nice bit of artwork)!