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.

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 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" taught 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) 111 U.S. patents constituted/constitute the basis for the transfer and distribution of electromagnetic energy. He is also the inventor of alternating current generator as well as electric motor.

  • 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 25 May 2017 it was issued 21,339 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. Ford Motor Company had 5,909 patents issued between 1976 and 25 May 2017.

  • 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 than the inventions in the 19th century (approximately 700,000). Since so many new technologies emerged, only a few examples are given below.


  • 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. The Boeing Company had 12,909 U.S. patents issued between 1976 and 26 May 2017; Airbus had 5,111 U.S. patents registered in the same period.


  • 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, in order to not experience Fukushima Daiichi, Chernobyl like disasters.

Here is the list of the patents that started the nuclear industry:

2,708,656 Neutronic 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. In 2000, Mr. Kilby 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.

    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

  • Patent # 4,237,224 entitled "Process for producing biologically functional molecular chimeras" was applied for on 4 January 1979, and was granted on 2 December 1980 to Stanley Cohen and Herbert Boyer. This was a method about cloning genetically engineered molecules in foreign cells. By this discovery and its applications Boyer and Cohen initiated what is now the multibillion-dollar biotechnology industry. They were further granted patents # 4,468,464 and 4,740,470 both of them entitled "Biologically functional molecular chimeras."

    In patent 4,237,224 the first method of altering genetic characteristics of bacteria was disclosed. In short, the gene that gives resistance to tetracycline (a kind of antibiotic) and the gene that gives resistance to kanamycin (another kind of antibiotic) were pasted to the DNA of E. coli (a bacterium). The newly created E. coli could not be killed by both antibiotics. Obviously this patent started a new era in which mankind was going meet new viruses, bacteria, and diseases. The first case of AIDS was reported in 1983. Unknown strains of influenza viruses started to appear in flu seasons. Many diseases that used to be easily treatable are today declared to have become "antibiotic resistant."

    In other words misused biotechnology, including harmful by-products, may be as devastating to mankind as misused nuclear technology.

DNA testing

  • A British geneticist named Alec Jeffreys invented a method of DNA testing to check for identity. U.S. patent # 5,175,082 entitled "Method of characterizing genomic DNA" was applied for on March 19, 1986 in England, and was issued on December 29, 1992 in the U.S. The technique disclosed in this patent has been widely used in forensics (i.e. whether an organic evidence found at a crime scene belonged to a suspect), and determining maternity, paternity (i.e. whether a person is the biologic mother or father of an individual). A British company bought this patent and, in 1987 established Cellmark Diagnostics, a DNA testing company in England and the United States. One of Cellmark's most famous assignments was the DNA testing used in the O.J. Simpson trial in 1994. (Simpson was then a popular football player and movie star in the U.S. He was accused of murdering his ex-wife and her boy friend. The progress of the trial was watched by almost all of the U.S. population like a long lasting football game.)

  • Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) is a technique used in DNA testing to produce millions of copies of a short sequence of DNA, even if it has broken down considerably. Alec Jeffreys' method (patent # 5,175,082 mentioned above) required relatively large amounts of human substances. With PCR it became possible to obtain large amounts of a tiny sequence of DNA by reproducing it by cloning. PCR was invented by Kary Mullis who was then working for the Cetus Corporation, a biotechnology company in Emeryville, California. U.S. patent # 4,683,202, entitled "Process for amplifying nucleic acid sequences" was applied for on 25 October 1985, and was issued on 28 July 1987. Kerry's employer gave him $10,000 bonus for his invention, and later sold this patent (i.e. making, selling, and using rights of the technology taught in the patent) to the pharmaceutical company Hoffmann-La Roche for $300 million. Although Millis did not make much money for his discovery, he was awarded the Nobel price for it in 1993.

Genetically altered animal

  • On April 12, 1988 patent # 4,736,966 was issued for the first genetically altered mouse. Philip Leder and Timothy A. Stewart applied for the patent of "Transgenic Non-Human Mammals" on June 22, 1984.


  • On November 14, 2000 U.S. patent # 6,147,276 was issued for the first cloned animal. A complete animal was created from the DNA of another adult animal, and it was identical to the donor of the DNA. The cloned sheep Dolly became world famous in February 1997 when her birth (in July 1996) was made public. Keith H. S. Campbell and Ian Wilmut were the inventors; the patent entitled "Quiescent cell populations for nuclear transfer in the production of non-human mammals and non-human mammalian embryos" was applied for on 31 August 1995.

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.

(Google Patents, USPTO's patent number search, or boolean search may be used to display the above listed and all other U.S. patents.)