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Early Homes of the U. S. Patent Office
By John Clagett Proctor. Now that it has been definitely de cided to move a large part of the employes of the Patent Office to Rich mond, it might be interesting to learn something ot this bureau's early homes In Washington, when, at least 100 years ago it would have made very little dif ference if the entire force were to be moved elsewhere. This particular branch of the Govern ment had its inception in the Constitu tion of the United States, where, in sec tion 8 of article 1, in enumerating the powers delegated to the Congress, we find this clause: "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 Discov eries. Prom the first this office began to function under a commission composed of the Secretary of State, the Secretary of War and the Attorney General, in accordance with the act of April 10, 1790. At this time Congress was meeting in New York City, and it was here that the first patent was issued to Samuel Hop kins on July 31 of that same year, “for making pot or pearl ashes.” The inven tor's home address is not given. At least from 1790 to 1802. the entire work of this office was performed by a single clerk in the State Department, and, we are told “all the records did not fill over a dozen pigeonholes.’’ Says George W. Evans, in the records of the Columbia Historical Society. “No organization of a Patent Bureau occurred until May, 1802, when President Jefferson appointed Dr. William Thorn ton, a scientist and friend of George Washington, to have charge of the Issuance of patents. Por 26 years Dr. Thornton exercised an autocratic con trol of the affairs of the Patent Office. “He used his powers of discretion to an extent that would undoubtedly be much condemned at the present state of our national progress. From such in ventors as could afford to pay, he exacted the Government fees, but when he found that the inventor was poor in pocket, he remitted the fees, boldly asserting that 'the patent law was made solely for the encouragement of authors and Inventors, and not to collect revenue.’ “Although upon his death an investi gation of his office showed a decided deficit between the amount which actu ally was and that which should have been to the credit of the office in the Treasury, there does not appear to have been any suspicion of personal dis honesty on the part of Dr. Thornton, but was merely chargeable to his gen erosity and leniency toward the in ventors. He took great interest in the office, making it practically his life work. His salary was $1,400, nowadays considered as a moderate-sized clerk's salary, but undoubtedly a large one in those days. His single clerk drew $500 per year, and his messenger was on the pay roll for $72 annually. This was his office force. Dr. William Thornton con tinued in office until the date of his death in 1828.” Dr. Thornton, as is well known, was the original designer of the Capitol. When the Government was moved from Philadelphia to Washington in June, 1800, the State Department, with its eight employes, was at first crowded into the building erected for the Treas ury Department. However, by August 27, it is said to have been moved into one of the “Six Buildings,” 2107 to 2117 Pennsylvania avenue. If it did, and it is doubtful, it naturally carried the Patent Office with it. But more definitely, the Patent Office was located at 1901 Penn sylvania avenue in 1800, where the De partment of State was then located. Small Village Then. At the time the Department of State moved to this corner there were only 369 houses in this city, including 109 brick and 253 frame, and the building of the War Department structure had hardly begun. The number of depart ment employes was then almost unbe lievably small. The State Department had 8 clerks. Treasury Department, 75; War Department, 17; Navy Depart ment, 16, and Post Office Department, 10, The census of the city included 2,992 whites, 629 slaves and 123 free col ored. Georgetown had just a little fewer, or 2,993 in all. West and north of the White House was then quite rural and included much woodland, and only a few years before a race course crossed Pennsylvania ave nue. about between Seventeenth and Twentieth streets, while there were still the remains of an old cemetery in the northwest corner of Lafayette Square. The rapid increase in the number of Inventions early led Congress to make special provisions for the accommoda tion of the Patent Office. In 1810 the erection or purchase of a suitable build ing for the use of the General Post Office and keeper of the patents and arrangements of the models was author ized. Under this authority a structure known as Blodgett’s Hotel, on the E street side of the present site of the General Post Office, was secured. Up to 1820 all applications for patents were examined by a clerk in the office of the Secretary of State. In that year Dr. Thornton, appointed by President Jeffer son to issue patents, took upon himself the title of superintendent of the Patent Office. Made Senarate Bureau. Under the act of July 4, 1838, the Pat ent Office was created a separate bureau in the Department of the Interior, and its chief officer received the title of commissioner of patents. The Blodgett Hotel Building occupied ft portion of the north side of E street between Seventh and Eighth streets, and the Patent Office was housed there when Washington was burned in 1814. It was the only public building not destroyed by the enemy at that time, due to the successful efforts of Dr. Thornton, a part of whose account fol lows: "I was desirous not only of saving an Instrument that had cost me great labor, but of preserving, if possible, the build ing and all the models. I, therefore, left my breakfast and hastened forward, determining to request the first known democrat I should meet to accompany me, lest the malevolent should insinuate that I had in any manner held an Improper communication with the in vaders of the country. I met with Charles Carroll, Esquire, one of the most respectable gentlemen in the District, and X begged him to accompany me for the reason given; he very politely at tended me. “We arrived at the very moment when the English, Colonel Jones and his men, were proceeding to bum the War Office. Mr. Carroll had already accompanied the Mayor of Georgetown in a peace deputation and was therefore known to some of the officers: he informed Colonel Jones that I had waited on him to re quest permission to take out of the Patent Office a musical instrument: the Colonel immediately replied that as it was not tljeir intention to destroy any private property, I was perfectly at lib erty to take it. "After the War Office was burnt, I en treated Mr. Carroll to accompany me to the Patent Office, but he proceeded only to my house and told me he must return. He did so, and I went to the residence of the Mayor to ask him to accompany me to the building, but he was out of town. I next called on Mr. Nicholson, my model maker and mes senger, and desired him to attend me: he did, and the British soldiers were away and promised to spare the build* ing." However, though it is quite certain that Dr. Thornton did not, at the time of his appeal to the British officers, have the slightest idea that this building would so soon supply a most urgent need, yet thi$ necessity soon manifested itself and proved a double godsend, for Congress, which was not in session when the public buildings of Washington were destroyed on August 24, was, neverthe less, scheduled to meet here on the 19th of the following month, end since there was no other place in the city suitable for a meeting place, the saving of this structure proved a most fortunate one, since, had this building been destroyed along with the rest, the legislative branch of the Government would in all likeli hood have had to seek quarters outside the city, and, had it done so, it may never have returned to Washington. But the third session, of the Thir teenth Congress was held in this build ing, and continued to meet there until December, 1815, or early in January, 1816. it proved to be one of the worst con flagrations to occur In this city. The complete destruction of this build ing and its contents occurred on the night of December 15, 1836, and it was not only occupied by the Patent Office but also housed the Post Office Depart ment and the City Post Office. At this time all of the valuable patent models were destroyed and only the walls of the building left standing. The Patent Office then obtained quarters in the Court House, or City Hall, as it was once called, and here it remained until it moved into the old Patent Office Building at Ninth and P streets N.W. And here occurred another disastrous fire on September 24, 1877. Upon this occasion the fire started shortly after 11 o’clock am., in what was known as the "Green House* Just under the roof and directly over the portico of the west or Ninth street front. Instead of turning in an alarm immediately when the fire was discovered, an attempt was made by the employes to subdue the flames themselves. Thirty-five minutes after the fire started, Sergt. Arnold of The Export Leaf Tobacco Building, Lombardy street, Richmond, Va., selected by the Govern ment for the Patent Office under the provisions of the decentralization program. —a. p. photo. then marching in two columns to burn the building. t “When we arrived there we found the Reverend Mr. Brown, Mr. Lyon and Mr. Hatfield near the Patent Office. Major ' Waters, who was then on guard and waiting the command of Colonel Jones, informed me that the private property might be taken out; I told him that there was nothing but private property of any consequence, and that any public property to which he objected might be burnt in the street, provided the build ing might be preserved, which contained hundreds of models of the arts, and that it would be impossible to remove them, and to burn what would be useful to all mankind would be as barbarous as for merly to bum the Alexandrian Library, for which the Turks have since been condemned by all enlightened nations. "Major Waters desired me to go again with him to Col. Jones, who was at tending some of his men engaged in destroying Mr. Gales printing office. I went to Pennsylvania Avenue and Seventh street and was kindly received by the colonel. They took their men Washington has always had resource ful and astute men. and, anticipating the possible removal of the Capital elsewhere, a group of citizens including Elias B. CaldweU, W. Emack, Daniel Carroll, WiUiam Brent and Griffith Combs organized a company to provide adequate temporary accommodations for Congress until the Capitol should be restored. Accordingly, the corner stone, of what became known as the Brick Capitol, was laid on July 4, 1815, and cost the promoters $30,000, and here the Fourteenth Congress met from shortly after December 11, 1815. and until Congress returned to the restored Capitol of today, in 1819. The temporary Capitol occupied a part of the site of the United States Supreme Court Building. Destroyed by Fire. Though Dr. Thornton accomplished much for the time being in preserving the irreplaceable patent models and* records housed in the Blodgett Building, yet fate seems to have predetermined that this structure should be destroyed by fire, and when the time did come, the police force, who saw smoke Issuing from the Ninth street windows, turned In an alarm and the Fire Department was quickly on the scene, but the lire In the meantime had gained much headway. Arnold, who turned In the alarm, as many will recall, was later and for many years known to all as Lieut. “Dick" Ar nold, being stationed at No. 1 precinct. He was an unusually efficient officer, and. strange as it may seem, it was his efficiency that led to his separation from the force. Martin Cronin, one of the best fire fighters Washington ever had, was then chief engineer of the department, and, upon arriving at the fire, at once turned in a general alarm. Secretary of the Interior Carl Schurz. who had offices in the building, urged that immediate as sistance be requested of Baltimore, and the mayor of that city was accordingly appealed to. to send over what firemen and apparatus they could spare. Alex andria was also telegraphed to for aid and 6ent the steamer Hydralion and the relief hook and ladder company with their truck, which was put on the boat Burning of the U. S. Patent Office at Ninth and F streets on September 24,1877. and arrived here and got into service about 1 o’clock. Fifteen minutes after the Baltimore department was telegraphed to, several pieces of apparatus, including Nos. 1 and 2 steam engines and hose carriage were in the railroad yard. Through what seems to have been stupid handling of the situation the train was delayed in the yard 36 minutes before starting, not leaving there until 1 p.m. and not ar riving in the Washington depot until 2:12 o’clock, taking 1 hour and 6 min utes to make the trip. At the time it was reported that the 40 miles were made In 32 minutes, but obviously this was not so. A second train from Baltimore with engines 3 and 4, beat the first train time by 12 minutes, arriving here in 64 minutes. Upon a previous occasion when Baltimore asked help from Wash ington the trip was made in 41 minutes. When the Baltimore engines arrived at the depot, they were drawn from there to the fire by the horses of our department. In the meantime, the roof of the western wing had fallen in and the fire had made its way along the G street wing toward Seventh street. Although this was said to be a fireproof building, yet the loft under the roof near where the fire had started was mostly filled with immense piles of pa pers and documents from the bureaus in the lower part of the building, making an ideal place for a fire to start. As it so happened, the nearest place to obtain water, which was from a tank which stood outside the south end of the attic, was cut off by the rapidity with which the flames spread, and it became necessary to go fully 500 feet before water could be obtained. Al though the employes worked heroicaUy, yet the handicap was too much to be overcome. At 1:15 p.m., before the arrival of as sistance from Baltimore, the Are was brought under control, but continued to burn for some time afterward. While the property damage here did not run to a million dollars, the loss in models, maps, and in other ways, could not be estimated. The 20,000 rejected models stored in this loft, and which were entirely wiped out, may not have amounted to so very much, but the loss of 65,000 to 80,000 patent models was a national misfortune. As bad as this fire was. when we con sider what, might have been the result, we gladly praise our stars that it was no worse. Rescued from the flames were such national treasures as the Declara tion of Independence, now on exhibition in the Library of Congress: Washington's commission as commander in chief of Promises ‘Square Deal’ for Federal Workers Federal workers have two outstanding champions of their cause in the Halls of Congress, one in each branch—Robert Ramspeck of Georgia in the House, and the Hon. James M. Mead of New York in the Senate. Both are Democrats, and each has labored long, hard and ef fectively to better working conditions for Uncle Sam’s employes. Early in life, the man who is now Senator Mead, became interested in politics, and in 1911 the same upheaval which deposited Mr. Ramspeck in the House post office placed Mr. Mead there too—150 feet away from him, as he ex plained. The future Senator took the job of uniforfned policeman—a political appointment practically guaranteed, as was the custom in those days, against every catastrophe except death or a Re publican majority. Like Mr. Ramspeck, Mr. Mead also realized the injustice of the system which had handed him this strange patronage, and determined to do something about it later, when he got the chance. Note that the word “when” is used, and not the more speculative “if.” Mr. Mead had a vision of the shape of things to come. He not only had ambitions; he announced them openly. "In 10 years,” he told his associates, “I will be back here—as a Congressman.” Human nature was no different in 1911 from what it is today. The remark brought repercussions ranging all the way from gentle smiles of derision to large lusty laughs, depending upon the temperament of the skeptical auditor. However, those who merely indulged in smiles of disbelief had the better of it in the end, although Officer Mead was not quite right in his prediction; in stead of taking 10 years, he made it in seven. Stepping stones to the accomplishment were his return to New York, his election as committeeman, and later, in 1913, to the supervisorship of Erie County, N. Y. From 1914 to 1917 he was a member of the State Assembly, and the added pres tige, plus his ability at his chosen work, got him nominated for congressional Representative on the Democratic ticket. He won the election and came to Con gress in 1918, ready, among other duties, to take up the fight in behalf of Federal employes. He began to get his chance two years later when he was placed on the Post Office Committee, of which he became chairman after another 10 years. An other chairmanship he occupied was that of the House Subcommittee on Civil Service, on the Joint Committee on Gov ernment Reorganization. By Basil Gordon. we would probably still be chairman had not higher honors called; on No vember 8, 1938, he was elected to the Senate to fill the vacancy for the term ending January 3, 1941, caused by the death of the Honorable Royal S. Cope land. Inasmuch as he could not be both Representative and Senator, he resigned as the former on December 2, 1938, and took office the next day as Senator. He was re-elected a year ago last November. As may well be imagined, all this time he kept in close touch with Mr. Ram speck whose ideas he approved. Having been a Federal worker himself In one of the lower and Insecure brackets, he realized what that class was up against, and welcomed any assistance to remedy the evil. His transfer to the Senate In 1938 did nothing to disrupt collaboration. Rather, it strengthened it. By having one member moved to a new front, the Senate, the pair were able to combine their strategy and execute a pincers movement, one Jaw from each branch of Congress. Together they broke the op position—and there was plenty of oppo Senator James M. Mead. —Harrls-9wlnf Photo. ft sition, from the Government economy bloc. The passage of the Ramspeck-Mead bill, secured automatic salary increases for all Federal workers and most District of Columbia employes. Other offensives well under way pro vide retirement compensations and sal ary reclassifications for the lower Income groups. The longevity bill, applicable to the postal service, is an example. Sen ator Mead says confidently that all will pass. His confidence seems justified by the fact that virtually they have all passed, the only difficulty being the rela tively minor one that the provisions of the House and Senate bills are slightly different, for which reason the bills must go to joint conference for compromise and adjustment, after which their en actment should be speedy and a mere matter of form. “No one is really against them,” ex plained the Senator. When Senator Meade spoke recently on The Star Radio Forum, on the topic of the Federal worker and his place in the national service, he pointed out that Federal employes are not mere imper sonal and unimportant cogs in the ma chinery of an impersonal Government, but are friends and neighbors serving us all in immensely important ways. He feels that it is going to take an efficient Government to win the war and restore .sanity to the world, and the efficiency of the whole depends upon that of its component parts. Right now, in the emergency, many of these “component parts” are putting in long hours of overtime with no extra pay, and, be it noted, with no complaint. Senator Mead believes in, and has acted on, the theory—which could be termed hard-bolied by those who, like to think that way—that it pays good dividends to give the “parts" of Government a square deal and get automatically in return more efficiency. Long ago Congress wisely decided that highly important executives, like the President and the members of the Su preme Court, should be secure in their tenure of office and so well paid that they in turn could pay their own per sonal obligations, live comfortably within their means, and with their minds free of financial worries, be better able to devote their talents to the service of the people of the United States. The same 'general principle should apply to Fed eral employes of lesser rank—but it has taken Senator’s Mead’s perspicacity to see that and to work for it. the American forces, his uniform and his camp chest; the coat Gen. Jackson wore at the battle of New Orleans and many other relics and trophies, including the original Elias* Howe sewing machine; although the original model of the cot ton gin which first made cotton a profitable product, the conception of the genius of Eli Whitney, the Yankee schoolmaster who went to Georgia to teach school, was lost in the flames. Richmond, the city to which the Patent Office is to be moved, possibly in a month or two, is the capital and the largest city in Virginia, and was the capital of the Confederate States from 1861 to 1865, and here the South land had its own Patent Office during that stormy period. Noted for its in genious people, the applications at this time "covered inventions of every sort," we are told. However, though we are glad to say that Richmond is a very fine old South ern city, nevertheless it is thought likely that the danger from property loes by fire there would be even greater there than it would be here, for though they may have a good fire department, it cer tainly doe* not excel in equipment and efficiency our own department of un rivaled firefighters. Nor is it likely that the Federal work ers who are being sent there, will fare as well as they do here in Washington, If we are to believe what the Richmond press has to say about the situation. Far instance, on January 1, one of the papers said: “Hundreds of additional worker* coming to Richmond. They will need single rooms, flats, apartments and houses. Do you have a vacancy of any kind?” An item appearing on December 29 says: “December rent lists revealed al most no furnished apartments and com paratively few furnished units. A few apartments in the $85-or-$90-a-month class are available, and agents thought several of the single men might live to gether in them. Many of the employe* will take rooms in boarding houses. “One of the patent workers in town yesterday thought the 1200 figure too high. He estimated possibly 200 families and 600 single persons would make the move from Washington.” The Blodgett Hotel building where the Patent Office was housed at the time the structure was destroyed by fire on De cember 15, 1836. It was located on the north side of E street, between Seventh and Eighth streets. Saving Your Auto by Budgeting Mileage By Frederick C. Russell. With wartime economy demanding that motorcar use be curtailed and the motorist all too well aware that motor ing has becomes an essential to daily life, the problem of cutting down mile age looms as the number one dilemma for that vast Army of personal trans portation users—the American motorists. How to cut down mileage without putting a crimp in essential business, homelife, morale, recreation and na tional defense appears to be more im portant than how to keep the present car in running condition. What efforts have you made as a motorist to meet this problem squarely? Somewhere between the extremes of going earless or of trying to motor “as usual’’ there's a happy medium. What makes it difficult to find is that the wartime course you may find feasible to pursue isn’t the same as would be practical for others. Wise use of any man’s car during the war will be surprisingly personal. It is, therefore, not for any one to criticize the extent to which others put their cars, nor to be too lavish in praise of those who appear to be making great sacrifices in the interest of more efficient con duct of the war on the home front. There are many people who would not find it any hardship at all to be without their own cars. Perhaps they have cwned a car only for the sake of appearances. They may have parents or children who can provide them with all the supplemental transportation they need. On the other hand there are many citizens who are amazingly dependent on cars to keep them useful to their country. Most of today’s chauffeur driven cars are owned by ill, elderly or timid people who would be forced into strange seclusion without the aid of their personal cars, and many of them are active in various specialized and important lines of endeavor. Farmers, physicians, visiting nurses, collectors, the clergy and insurance loss adjusters are among those who may find it necessary to use their cars more dur ing 1942 than in « normal year. But there are many ways in which all motorists can cut down on car use. Parking furnishes a good example. Where possible, the car should be left further from one’s destination. Cruis ing around traffic has no place in war time motoring, nor should there be any tolerance for the sort of ' recreation'’ obtained from Just riding around with out a definite objective in mind. And when you go somewhere in the car, go slower. It means that you can go further with the same expenditure of those essentials which go into the makings of motion. In other words, shorten the trip by cutting out the waste involved in speeding. Planned use of cars can save millioni of miles. Today most car owners re trace their treads needlessly. When you are out with the car phone your home to see if there is any errand you can perform before returning. Select shorter routes to your destination, avoid ing traffic lights and congestion wherever possible. Put the car in the garage when you return home. Demands for a 50 per cent decrease in car use must be weighed against the fact that the American way of life is predicated on intensified employment of privately owned vehicles of transporta tion. It must be conceded that the greatly accelerated tempo of activities due to the war may push the need for transportation way beyond anything heretofore anticipated. Every motorist should make a determined effort to find ways and means of reducing to a bare minimum whatever mileage is obviously unnecessary. One of the most practical plans for decreasing mileage will become effective •this coming summer when vacationists will be encouraged to see their own State first. Trips simply will be shorter. With destinations less distant there will be less incentive to faster driving. Cars should come through next sum mer's motoring with far less than the usual vacation-time punishment. Much mileage can be saved by two families planning to travel together. Doubling up on defense workers’ trans portation could be encouraged by fac tories making a charge for parking, this income being invested in defense bonds. This would have a tendency to encourage more workers to leave their own cars at home. People with two cars should aim to avoid having both machines in operation at the same time. The second car should be kept in condition for possible use in an emer gency, but it is a liability to the Nation if used too freely. Plans of some auto men to loan you a car while yours is being serviced may be desirable where your business, pro fession or defense activity demands that you have uninterrupted transportation, but this plan is not in line with efforts to curb car use and will not be en couraged for that reason. You may be suprised to find that you can attend to some affairs more conveniently with out the car than with it. But cut car use wisely. Make every mile count. Let us use the car to help win the war—not Just put It in storage for the duration. This Nation owes much of its strength to the automobile. Let us keep it hardy with the swift, reliable transportation which cars pro vide anywhere and at any time.