The RG 241: Restored Patents (NAID 305885) are finally here and available for viewing and download via the National Archives catalog! In addition to containing some very detailed and colorful images, this series is particularly interesting because of its 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. In 1837 Congress passed an act that provided for the restoration of these burned records and the reconstruction work was completed by 1847. Although patents issued before July 1, 1836, were unnumbered, arbitrary numbers were assigned to these “restored” drawings by 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.
After having digitized this series, I can say that I definitely feel like I got a glimpse into the past through some of these drawings. Aside from the objects and functions that the patents were actually for, the background imagery in the drawings is equally interesting. Not only can you see things like how workers dressed for work in the 1800s, you can also see examples of different breeds of horses and interior home designs and finishes.
Perhaps you prefer topics that are a bit more along functional, utilitarian lines. Well, fear not, this series has something for everyone! Washing machines, methods and machines for creating horsepower and lessening human workloads, and health-related patents are very well-represented in this series.
Also in this series are a few drawings featuring outstanding artwork. Rather than looking like patents per se, these look more like something one might find in a storybook or a book of landscapes.
And, finally, there are a few patents that are so fantastical that you might possibly find yourself wondering, “Did this thing ever get used? And, if so, was it successful?” The Chauncy Hall Diving Dress (featured below) with it’s copper plating and wool pads, is my personal favorite when it comes to wondering if the user survived the experience unscathed.
If you have enjoyed this blog post, please be sure to browse the rest of the series in the catalog and take some time to look at the images up close. You never know what you might find….like the title of a very small newspaper beside a tired man!
You can find all of these patents and more by searching the National Archives online catalog using https://catalog.archives.gov/. Here you can search for patents by name of inventor or patent number. If you use the patent number, be sure to include the “X” following the number. Also, see the link below for a few more interesting patents that focus solely on horsepower and the production thereof.