James S. Rankin's 1879 School Desk and Seat Patent Model

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James S. Rankin from Muscoda, Minnesota, received a U.S. patent for an improved school desk. Patent no. 211521 was issued on January 21, 1879.
This model has four seats with a slat of wood for a backrest and sits on a wooden base. The seats connect to each other, side by side, by a piece of wood that also connects to the desk, so two chairs share one desk. This desk model was considered an improvement in school desks because it was a double desk that would separate students like a single desk. The backs are elastic and adjustable. The backrest is made to fit under the shoulder blades and designed so that no hard points or surfaces are touching the spine. This would make the chair more comfortable to sit in. The chair was meant to support the students so they might have an "erect and natural position." It was considered easy to access and allowed easy sweeping of the floors.
James S. Rankin was born in 1818. He served as a county and city superintendent of schools in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He was known for the Rankin School Desk, which was popular because it was inexpensive and convenient. These desks were used in Louisville, Kentucky; Chicago, Illinois, and many other city schools. His desk was exhibited in the Mechanic’s Hall at the Indiana State Fair where it was recommended for first premium, a cash award. He died in 1897.
Currently not on view
date made
associated date
Rankin, James S.
U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
Rankin, James S.
referenced in patent specifications
United States: Minnesota, Muskoda
Physical Description
wood (overall material)
overall: 7 1/4 in x 12 in x 6 in; 18.415 cm x 30.48 cm x 15.24 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
patent number
Patent Models
See more items in
Home and Community Life: Education
Cultures & Communities
American History Education Collection
Data Source
National Museum of American History


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