Abraham Lincoln, inventor – only president with a patent?

February 10, 2013

Lincoln’s (and Darwin’s) birthday rolls around again next week. What do we know about our 16th president who was the subject of a great and a silly movie in the last year?

Some wag sent out this Tweet today.

Any visitor to Thomas Jefferson’s home at Monticello knows of Jefferson’s wide-ranging interests, and work in science and invention.  I was rather surprised to discover the depth of George Washington’s inventive work, in a seminar sponsorred by the Bill of Rights Institute at Mount Vernon a few years ago.

Abraham Lincoln, too?

Sangamon_River_near_Lincoln's_First_Home_in_Il...

Sangamon River near Lincoln’s first home in Illinois – Photo from Wikipedia

Lincoln lived along the Sangamon River, and he saw development of the river for commercial navigation to be a boon for his district’s economic growth.  Unfortunately, the Sangamon is not deep; boats had difficult times navigating over the many logs and snags, and shallows.

So, Mr. Lincoln offered a technical solution, for which he was granted a patent in 1849.  Details below, from Google Patents:

lincoln-patent-for-buoying_vessels_over_shoals

lincoln-patent-for-boat-buoying-in-jpg

Drawing for Abraham Lincoln’s patent of a boat bouying apparatus.

Was Lincoln the only president to get a patent?  Thomas Jefferson and George Washington worked hard at inventions.  Jefferson shared Ben Franklin’s view that new inventions should be for the benefit of all; does that mean he didn’t seek patents?  Washington’s inventions — including the 16-sided barn for threshing wheat — tended to be improvements on processes; I don’t know of any evidence he even thought of patenting any idea.

It’s possible that Lincoln was the only president so far to have held a patent.

Lincoln’s invention was never built, and that patent never used.

This is an encore post with additions.

More, and miscellany:

 


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