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This website provides access to many US patent documents issued between 1790 and 1836. Approximately 10,000 patents were issued during this period. Due to destruction by fire, only about one quarter of these historic documents remain.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office website provides an extensive full-text search capability for all US patents issued after February 2, 1971 until the present day. The earliest patent that can be retrieved using a boolean search on this website is US Patent Serial No. 3,559,516. Google Patents provides a search capability for all US patents issued after July 13, 1836. The earliest patent that can be retrieved using a boolean search on this website is US Patent Serial No. 1. The patents issued earlier than Patent No. 1 were handwritten and unnumbered.

On April 10, 1790, having been previously passed by both houses, the first Patent Act became law after being signed by President George Washington. The law was entitled: ìAn Act to Promote the Progress of Useful Arts.î The full text of this Act may be found at Wikisource. The passage of this Act by Congress was authorized by Article I Section 8 of the US Constitution, which said, in part:

The Congress shall have Power To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.

ìOn July 31, 1790, Samuel Hopkins of Philadelphia, received the first U.S. patent for an improvement in "the making of Pot ash and Pearl ash by a new Apparatus and Process." President George Washington signed the patent, as did Attorney General Edmund Randolph and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson. The original document is still in existence in the collections of the Chicago Historical Society.î

From 1790 to 1836, approximately ten-thousand patents were issued to inventors as authorized by the 1790 Act. Prior to 1836, patents did not receive numbers. Where drawings were used to describe the inventions, the drawings were created by draftsmen who used very much the same standards as are currently used for patent drawings. However, the specifications for all of these patents were handwritten by the applicants or their attorneys. For the most part, patent claims were not required. Unfortunately, approximately three-quarters of these historic patent documents were destroyed by fire. In many that remain, the handwriting is illegible. In some, ink blotches obscure entire words. Reading the legible specifications is made more difficult because the shapes of some letters were different in the 18th and 19th Centuries than in the 21st Century. For example, the script letter ìsî often appeared as the script letter ìf.î After 1836, patent specifications were printed, and the patents were numbered. They looked very much as patents look today. Patent No. 1 was issued on July 13, 1836 to J Ruggles.

Today, prior art searches are done by inventors, attorneys, and patent examiners. The entire electronic patent database is now maintained by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and by other sources. The USPTO website allows for full text and keyword searches on all patents since 1976, and contains scanned images of all US patents and published US patent applications. The USPTO no longer maintains paper copies of issued patents. Free websites such as Google Patents contain images of all issued patents since 1836, and permit full text patent searching.

However, images of patents issued between 1790 and 1836 are difficult to find online, and their written specifications have never been reduced to machine readable text. This website makes these historic patent documents available to the public. Where possible, the handwritten patent specifications have been transcribed into machine readable text.




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