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SOME PIONEERING PATENTS IN TECHNOLOGICAL PROGRESS

United States of America was among the poorest nations when it was founded in 1790's. The patent law was enacted on April 10, 1790, and this started the industrial revolution (The industrial revolution for the U.S. is generally accepted to be between 1790 and 1850).

President Thomas Jefferson, who was also one of the designers of the patent law, made the following statement in a few years after the implementation of the patent system: "The issue of patents for new discoveries has given a spring to invention beyond my conception."

By mid 18th century U.S. became one of the richest countries of the world. In 1860 President Abraham Lincoln noted: "The patent system added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius."

Below are given some examples of patents that started new industries in the 19th and 20th centuries. You may see the images of, and study these patents by directing your browser to U.S. Patent And Trademark Office's site.

[TIFF viewer reminder: To see the drawings of the patents, and to reach patents issued before 1976 you need to see the images of the patents, and for this purpose your browser may need to have a plug-in capable to read "tiff" files. Here are two sites where you can get a TIFF viewer: Alternatiff, Internetiff]

19th Century

  • Eli Whitney was granted on March 14, 1794 patent for the "machine for cleaning and separating cotton from its seeds" (#X72). This invention provided remarkable progress in the textile production.

  • The reaper patented by Cyrus Mc. Cormick on June 21, 1834 (#X8277) helped more fields to be cultivated.

  • The first revolving gun capable of making 5-6 shots without reloading was patented on February 25, 1836 by Samuel Colt (patent#X9430). (Its impact to human way of life may easily be observed in movies called Western.)

  • Patent # 3,633 granted to Charles Goodyear on June 15, 1844 entitled "Improvement in India-Rubber Fabrics" described a new method to prepare fabrics of Caoutchouc. Charles Goodyear started then "Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company."

  • Patent # 4,750 entitled "Improvement in Sewing Machines" was granted on September 10, 1846 to Elias Howe, Jr. It provided progress in the textile industry.

  • President Abraham Lincoln was granted on May 22, 1849 patent # 6,469 for "Buoying Vessels Over Shoals." Although that was not a revolutionary patent, it is included here to point out this famous president's inventive activity.

  • On November 4, 1862 Richard J. Gatling received patent #36,836 for the "machine gun" that became famous worldwide.

  • On May 26, 1868 Alfred Nobel was granted patent # 78,317 for dynamite. The title was "Improved Explosive Compound."

  • Patent # 79,265 entitled "Improvement in Type-writing Machines" was granted on June 23, 1868 to C. Latham Sholes, Carlos Glidden, and Samuel W. Soule. It started new industries.

  • Patent # 88,929 entitled "Improvement in Steam-Power-Brake Devices" was granted on April 13, 1869 to George Westinghouse, Jr. This patent provided important improvement in railway transportation.

  • Patent # 105, 338 entitled "Improvement in Treating and Molding Pyroxyline" was granted on July 12, 1870 to John W. Hyatt, Jr. And Ilaiah S. Hyatt. This was an important patent for the celluloid industry.

  • Patent # 105,338 entitled "Improvement in Car-Couplings" was granted to Eli H. Janny on April 1, 1873. This was an important patent for the railway transportation like Westinghouse's teaching.

  • Patent # 157,124 entitled "Improvement in Wire-Fences" thought about the barbed wire. It was granted to Joseph F. Glidden on November 24, 1874. This invention has been widely used in ranches and elsewhere.

  • Thomas Alva Edison had more than 1000 inventions. "Phonograph or Speaking Machine" and "Electric-Lamp" patents were granted on February 19, 1878 and January 27, 1880 respectively (Patent #s 200,521 and 223,898). He started "Electric Light Company" to produce electric lamps. The name of the company was changed in 1892 to "General Electric."

  • Nikola Tesla’s (1856-1943) 112 patents constituted/constitute the basis for the transfer and distribution of electromagnetic energy.

  • On March 7, 1876, Alexander Graham Bell was granted Patent # 174,465. The patent entitled "Improvement in Telegraphy" described the covering, the method of, and the apparatus for, transmitting vocal or other sounds telegraphically. Bell started "American Bell Telephone Company." Later thousands of inventions were made at Bell Telephone Laboratories. The first semiconductor transistor was also invented there.

  • Patent # 347,140 entitled "Apparatus for Electric Welding" was granted to Elihu Thomson on August 10, 1886. This had an impact in the art of welding.

  • George Eastman was granted patents for films and cameras. The first one of them is patent # 388,850 that was issued on September 4, 1888. Since then Eastman Kodak company received thousands of patents. (Namely between 1976 and August 2001 it was issued app. 14, 200 patents).

  • Patent # 400,665 entitled "Manufacture of Aluminum" was granted on April 2, 1889 to Charles M. Hall. It caused a new aluminum industry to start.

  • In 1893 Whitcomb L. Judson invented the zip fastener. The title and number of the patent were "Clasp Locker or Unlocker for Shoes" and 504,038 respectively.

  • Patent # 560,291 disclosing "Electrical Furnace" was granted in 1896 to Edward Goodrich Acheson. This enabled to work with materials having very high melting points.

  • Patent # 581,213 describing the first "Submarine Vessel" was granted to Simon Lake in 1897.

  • Patent # 610,040 for "Carburetor" was granted to Henri Ford in 1898. Founder of the Ford car company received 161 patents during his lifetime.

  • Patent # 644,077 for "Acetyl Salicylic Acid" was issued to Felix Hoffmann on February 27, 1900. This substance has been widely known under the trademark of "Aspirin."

20th Century

The number of inventions (approximately 5.3 millions) made in the 20th century were approximately 7.5 fold higher as compared to 19th century (approximately 700,000). Since so many new technologies emerged, only a few examples will be given below.

    Airplane
  • Orville and Wilbur Wright brothers invented the first device heavier than air that could fly. They applied for patent for their "Flying Machine" on March 23, 1903 and patent # 821,393 was granted on May 22, 1906. Needless to say this was the beginning of air transportation industry.

    Rocket

  • Robert Hutchings Goddard was a rocket engineer. He received approximately 200 patents teaching various aspects of rocket technology. His first patent (#1,102,653) entitled "Rocket Apparatus" was granted in 1914. All his patents are grouped in Subclass 915 of Class 60 of U.S. Patent Classification Manual under the name of "Goddard patents."

    Nuclear reactor and bomb

  • In June 1942 U.S. government started the super secret Manhattan Project to make an atomic bomb. On 2 December 1942 the first nuclear reactor that achieved self-sustaining chain reaction was realized. Eventually four bombs were produced by 1945. Two of them -nick named Little Boy and Fat Man- were used in August 1945 for destructive purposes against Japan. In mid 1950's U.S. government decided to allow civilian use of the nuclear technologies for energy production and other useful intentions, and patents teaching nuclear technologies were issued. Most of the inventors of these pioneering patents (e.g. Enrico Fermi, Leo Szilard, H.L. Anderson, W. H. Zinn etc…) had also participated in the Manhattan Project. These patents taught how to make nuclear reactors and, as you may have guessed, bombs.

    In very simple terms, when a fissionable material (e.g. uranium, or plutonium) is placed within another substance called "moderator" (e.g. graphite, deuterium oxide (i.e. heavy water), or beryllium), uranium or plutonium atoms start to break, and this is accompanied by release of energy. "Nuclear reactor" may be summarized as the name given to the ensemble formed by the fissionable material(s) and the moderator substance(s). There is a critical combination of them (called "critical size" or "critical mass") where the fission starts to self-sustain. If the amount of uranium or plutonium is increased above the "critical mass" quantity just a little bit, you get useful, controllable energy. If the amount of uranium or plutonium goes over the "critical mass" quantity further more than the useful energy producing range, then you may end up with destructive energy or a bomb. In summary, if you build or have a nuclear reactor, you have to be very careful not to over-pass the critical mass range, not to experience Chernobyl like disasters.

    Here is the list of the patents that started the nuclear industry. Patent # 2,708,656 is the pioneering patent that teaches the technologies used in Manhattan Project.

      PATENT #      TITLE (INVENTOR(S)/DATE FILED/DATE ISSUED)
      ---------     --------------------------------------------------
      2,708,656     Nuclear Reactor (Enrico Fermi, Leo Szilard/ 19 December 1944/
                      17 May 1955)
      2,714,577     Neutronic Reactor (E. Fermi, W.H. Zinn/ 2 November 1945/
                      2 August 1955)
      2,768,134     Testing material in a Neutronic Reactor (E. Fermi, 
                      H. L. Anderson/ 28 August 1945/ 23 October 1956)
      2,780,595     Test Exponential Pile (E. Fermi/ 4 May 1944/ 5 February 1957)
      2,798,847     Method of Operating a Neutronic Reactor (E. Fermi, 
                      L. Szilard/ 19 December 1944/ 9 July 1957)
      2,807,581     Neutronic Reactor (E. Fermi, L. Szilard/ 11 October 1945/ 
                      24 September 1957)
      2,807,727     Neutronic Reactor Shield (E. Fermi, W.H. Zinn/ 16 January 1946/ 
                      24 September 1957)
      2,809,931     Neutronic Reactor System (F. Daniels/ 11 October 1945/ 
                      15 October 1957)
      2,813,070     Method of Sustaining a Neutronic Chain Reacting System 
                      (E. Fermi, M.C. Leverett/ 28 November 1945/ 12 November 1957)
      2,832,733     Heavy Water Moderated Neutronic Reactor (L. Szilard/ 
                      23 April 1946/ 29 April 1958)
      2,836,554     Air Cooled Neutronic Reactor (E. Fermi, L. Szilard/ 
                      29 May 1945/ 27 May 1958)
      2,837,477     Chain Reacting System (E. Fermi, M.C. Leverett/ 
                      16 February 1945/ 3 June 1958)
      2,852,461     Neutronic Reactor (E. Fermi, W.H. Zinn, H.L. Anderson/ 
                      11 October 1945/ 16 September 1958)
      2,931,762     Neutronic Reactor (E. Fermi/ 12 May 1945/ 5 April 1960)
      2,969,307     Method of Testing Thermal Neutron Fissionable Material 
                      for Purity (E. Fermi, H.L. Anderson/ 21 November 1945/ 
                      24 January 1961) 

    Solid state transistor
  • John Bardeen, Walter H. Brattain, and William Shockley shared in 1956 the Nobel Prize for the invention of solid state transistors. All three worked at Bell Telephone Laboratories and here are some of their patents:

  • Patent # 2,524,035 entitled "Three-Electrode Circuit Element Utilizing Semiconductive Materials" was applied for on June 17, 1948, and was granted on October 3, 1950 to John Bardeen and Walter H. Brattain.

  • Patent # 2,569,347 entitled "Circuit Element Utilizing Semiconductive Material" was applied for on June 26, 1948, and was issued to William Shockley on September 25, 1951. Patent #s 2,623,102; 2,666,818; 2,672,528; 2,744,970 are some of Shockley's other patents.

    Semiconductor integrated circuit and electronic calculator

  • Jack St. Clair Kilby built the first electronic circuit in which all of the components were fabricated in a single piece of semiconductor material half the size of a paper clip. Patent for "Miniature Semiconductor Integrated Circuit" was applied for on May 6, 1959, and granted on December 24, 1963 (Patent # 3,115,581). Kilby's patents 3,138,743 (Miniaturized Electronic Circuits) and 3,643,138 (Semiconductor Device) taught further about integrated circuits. Later, together with Jerry D. Merryman and James H. Van Tessel he was the co-inventor of the first hand-held calculator. Patent for "Miniature Electronic Calculator" was applied for on September 29, 1967 and issued on June 25, 1974 with number 3,819,921. Mr. Kilby had over 60 U.S. patents. In 2000, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his part in the invention of the integrated circuit.

  • Together with Kilby, Merryman, Van Tassel's just above mentioned patent (#3,819,921), the following pioneering patents taught about electronic calculator systems of the type having all the main electronic functions within a single, large scaled semiconductor chip or small numbers of chips. They were all developed at Texas Instruments Incorporation's research labs and assigned to the same company.

      PATENT #      TITLE (INVENTOR(S)/DATE FILED/DATE ISSUED)
      ---------     --------------------------------------------------
      4,074,351     Variable Function Programmed Calculator (G. W. Boone, 
                      M. J. Cochran/ 19 July 1971/ 14 February 1978)
      3,892,957     Digital Mask Logic in Electronic Calculator Chip (J. D. Bryant/
                      24 September 1973/ 1 July 1975)
      3,987,416     Electronic Calculator with Display And Keyboard Scanning (J.L.
                      Vandierendonck, R. J. Fisher, G.A. Hartsell/24 September 1973/
                      19 October 1976)
      3,900,722     Multi-Chip Calculator System Having Cycle And Subcycle Timing
                      Generators (M. J. Cochran, C. P. Grant/ 13 September 1973/
                      19 August 1975)
      3,991,305     Electronic Calculator or Digital Processor Chip With Multiple
                      Code Combinations of Display And Keyboard Scan Outputs
                      (E. R. Caudel, J. H. Raymond/ 19 November 1974/
                       9 November 1976)

      These inventions have made possible vast reductions in cost and size, and 
      increase in functions, in electronic calculators. Texas Instruments Inc. 
      produced many millions of such calculators. The efforts to reduce manufacturing 
      costs, while at the same time to increase the functions available to the user 
      have resulted in the price of a basic four function electronic calculator 
      dropping from over $200 to less than $10 in less than three years.
    Genetic engineering

Hydroponics, computers, lasers, satellites are just some of the other new technologies that were born in the 20th century. Whoever wants to learn about how they were invented and improved by thousands of new innovations needs only to refer to patents. (How to make patent search is explained in the section "Patent Search")

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Update: 3 June 2014