National Museum of American History Curator has “Patent Model Index” Published

August 3, 2010
The Smithsonian Scholarly Press recently published “Patent Models Index: Guide to the Collections of the National Museum of American History” by Barbara Suit Janssen, associate curator in the museum’s Division of Home and Community Life. The Index is part of the Scholarly Press’s Contribution to History and Technology series.

The two-volume index contains four comprehensive listings of the original patent models in the museum’s collections. Volume one lists the models by patent number and by invention name, while volume two lists them by inventor and by residence of inventor. Each volume also contains numerous color photographs of models in the collections.

“The publication of the “Patent Models Index” was a complex undertaking,” said Janssen. “It required the identification and compilation of patent information about each model, as well as the collaboration of each division’s curatorial staff.”

For most of the 19th century, the U.S. Patent Office required inventors to submit a model with their patent application. The museum’s patent model collection began with the acquisition of 284 models from the Patent Office in June 1908, and reached more than 1,000 models by the end of that summer. In 1926, Congress decided to dispense with the stored collection of models and gave the Smithsonian Institution the opportunity to collect any models it wanted. Today, the museum’s collection exceeds 10,000 patent models dating from 1836-1910, including the river boat buoyancy model submitted by Abraham Lincoln, the only U.S. president to obtain a patent. Lincoln’s model is currently on display in the “Abraham Lincoln: An Extraordinary Life” exhibition.

“The compilation of the ‘Patent Models Index’ is a great accomplishment by Janssen, who put a lot of effort in to ensuring the Index’s completion,” said Brent D. Glass, director of the museum.

“Patent Models Index” is available online at The index can be downloaded as a PDF or a print copy can be requested by e-mailing, with “Contribution Series” in the subject line and the series name, date, author, volume number, shipping address and phone number in the body.

The National Museum of American History collects, preserves and displays American heritage in the areas of social, political, cultural, scientific and military history. To mark the 50th anniversary of the Greensboro lunch counter sit-in, the museum explores stories of freedom and justice, both in Washington and online. To learn more about the museum, check For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000, (202) 633-5285 (TTY).