Invention and the Patent Model


Between the years 1790 and 1880 the U.S. Patent Office required both documentation and a three-dimensional working model to demonstrate each new invention submitted for a patent. The models helped to explain proposed innovations and compare them against similar inventions.

Today patent models provide a glimpse into the 19th century. They reflect the interests and the needs of the period, along with the division of labor between men and women. Many inventions were not successful while others were said to have changed the course of contemporary civilization.

From 1908 to 1926 some 10,000 patent models were transferred from the U.S. Patent Office to the U.S. National Museum at the Smithsonian Institution. The models are now here at the National Museum of American History. 

Cannon, John Ericsson

Ericsson’s improvement in the construction of “Ordnance” was one of many inventive achievements, including the design for the battleship USS Monitor during the American Civil War.

See the patent drawing: Patent No. 41208, Patent Date 1864


Printing Press, Richard M. Hoe

Hoe was celebrated for his cylinder press and type-revolving press inventions. This improvement in “Rotary Printing Presses” included type forms which attached to the printing cylinder.

See the patent drawing: Patent No. 5199, Patent Date 1847


Photographic Coloring Process, Susan M. H. Pennington

Pennington’s improvement in “Processes of Coloring Photographs” offered an early coloring process using chemically prepared photographic paper.

See the patent drawing: Patent No. 205807, Patent Date 1878 


Fishing Reel, Charles W. MacCord

MacCord’s “Fishing Reel” included a detachable fishing-reel spool, allowing for greater ease of exchange of the spool from one reel to another.

See the patent drawing: Patent No. 147417, Patent Date 1880


Dulcimer, Ezra Durand

Durand’s improvement in “Dulcimers” was his only patent. He owned a dulcimer shop in Connecticut and offered instructional literature in the use of the instrument.

See the patent drawing: Patent No. 72,824, Patent Date 1867 


Loom, Erastus B. Bigelow

For Bigelow’s invention of a “Loom for Weaving Piled Fabrics,” he received one of his many patents, which included patents for his celebrated looms for weaving Brussels, or looped, carpets. 

See the patent drawing: Patent No. 7898, Patent Date 1851


Lamp, Isaiah Jennings

Jennings held patents for a variety of inventions, including the friction match and a threshing machine. This one, for a “Vapor Burner,” related to lamps and lighting.

See the patent drawing: Patent No. 2254, Patent Date 1841


Sewing Machine, Helen A. Blanchard

Blanchard’s improvement in “Sewing-Machines” used the buttonhole stitch. She is best remembered for another overstitch sewing invention, the “zig zag.”

See the patent drawing: Patent No. 141987, Patent Date 1873 


Signal-Light, Andrew Dick

Dick’s improvement in “Signal-Lights for Locomotives” included a combination of a stationary and a moveable headlight which could also identify the train name or number.

See the patent drawing: Patent No. 129797, Patent Date 1872 


Frying Pan, Elizabeth L. Packard

Packard’s improvement in “Cooking Utensils,” her only patented invention, included a new design for a frying pan using rounded recesses to keep eggs in place on the pan while cooking.

See the patent drawing: Patent No. 108385, Patent Date 1870


Dustpan, Sarah M. Rennie

Rennie described her only patented invention, for a “Dust Pan,” as having a “peculiar construction” which would assist with “Sweeping Stairs and Floors of Apartments.”

See the patent drawing: Patent No. 191368, Patent Date 1877


Equatorial Sextant, William Austin Burt

Burt’s “Equatorial Sextant,” or altitude instrument, determined a ship’s location at sea. Burt was also well known for other inventions, including the typographer and a solar compass.

See the patent model: Patent No. 16002, Patent Date 1856


Artificial Leg, Dubois D. Parmelee

Parmelee’s “Artificial Leg” included an atmospheric pressure–conforming rubber bucket molded from the patient’s remaining limb. Parmelee held several patents using India rubber.

See the patent drawing: Patent No. 37637, Patent Date 1863


India-Rubber Fabrics

Goodyear’s machine to manufacture “Corrugated or Shirred India-Rubber Goods” was closely associated with his groundbreaking patent for vulcanization—the process of hardening rubber. 

See the patent drawing: Patent No. 3462, Patent Date 1844


Telegraph, Samuel F. B. Morse

Morse is renowned for his telegraph. This relay, a component of his model for an “Improvement in Electro-Magnetic Telegraphs,” enabled the transmittal of a current over long distances. Morse developed the code to be used with this system.

See the patent drawing: Patent No. 4453, Patent Date 1846


Steam Steering Gear, Frederick E. Sickels

Sickels received several patents, most having to do with steam engines. This one assisted the “Operating and Controlling of the Rudders of Steam Vessels.”

See the patent drawing: Patent No. 9713, Patent Date 1853


Stem-winding Watch, Pauline H. Gontard

Although a foreigner, Gontard received patent protections for her “Stem-Winding Watches” in the United States. These protections are regularly offered to foreign patentees to secure the exclusive rights to a discovery.

See the patent drawing: Patent No. 220233, Patent Date 1879


Cotton Picker, David Rawl

Rawl’s patent for a “Machine for Carding Cotton” was granted by the Confederate Patent Office in 1864, during the American Civil War. The U.S. Patent Office patented his “Cotton Picker” after the war.

See the patent drawing: Patent No. 266884, Patent Date 1882


Typewriter, Sholes & Schwalback

This improvement in “Type-Writing Machines” was one of Sholes’s several patented typewriter innovations. An early typewriter inventor, he also developed the QWERTY keyboard system.

See the patent drawing: Patent No. 182511, Patent date 1876


Earring, Louisa A. Weed

Weed received a patent for an “Ear-Rings” design which offered a spring and pivoting parts along with cushioned facing concave and convex surfaces to be placed against the earlobe. She also held a patent for a paper pillow sham.

See the patent drawing: Patent No. 188323, Patent Date 1877