Benjamin Butterworth

1883-1885 and 1897-1898

The 19th Commissioner of Patents was born near Maineville, Ohio, October 22, 1837, of Quaker ancestry, one of his maternal ancestors, John Linton having emigrated to Pennsylvania with Wm. Penn. His father emigrated to the Miami Valley from Virginia in 1814.

The boy, Benjamin, was the youngest son and worked on his father's farm until the age of 18. He was educated in the common schools of Warren County, Ohio, and in the academy at Maineville, taking his college work at the Ohio University at Athens. After that he studied law and was admitted to the Ohio Bar in 1861 at the age of 24.

Young Butterworth made his debut in public life as Assistant U. S. District Attorney in 1868. He served in the Ohio Senate, and was then elected to Congress, serving from 1879-1883, and from 1885-1891, refusing a renomination for the next term.

His high ideals of purity in the politics of his country both in high and in low positions often called forth all the power of his masterful oratory against base treatment of sacred political rights. He earned the reputation of being a hard worker and a brilliant speaker, and he took a leading part in the debates. In the 51st Congress, Butterworth was Chairman of the House Committee on Patents, he being always a staunch defender of the patent system on the floor of the House.

On January 20, 1890, he introduced a resolution in Congress for the investigation of the patent system, particularly in regard to modification of existing laws; sufficiency of office space for the Bureau; and adequacy of the force and its compensation. He did much good missionary work for the Patent Office and the patent system, spreading intelligent enlightenment where gross ignorance ran rampant.

Appointed Commissioner of Patents by President Arthur in October, 1883, Mr. Butterworth spent most of his intermission from service in the House of Representatives between the 47th and 49th Congresses in his first administration of the Patent Office, which bureau was very near to his heart. He resigned in March, 1885, to serve his Congressional district in the 49th Congress. His second administration of the Office began April 12, 1897, and continued until his death January 16, 1898. Between Mr. Butterworth's two administrations there were five other incumbents in the office of Commissioner. His chief ambition was to broaden the scope and increase the usefulness of the Patent Office and the respect for it throughout the country by eliminating all questionable methods of practice before the Office. This his experience and capabilities singularly fitted him to do. His success may be evaluated by looking at his record.

A considerable chapter, or, indeed, even a book, might be written on Butterworth's decisions. Suffice it to say that in them are found clear, logical and reasonable expositions of the law. While not a stickler for technicalities, he points out the necessity of having and obeying rules of practice in conducting Patent Office business, just as in practice before the courts. His rulings embrace all the important aspects of patent law which arise in the Office.

Butterworth's untimely death was thought to be due to overwork in the campaign of 1897, resulting in an attack of pneumonia. He went south to recuperate, took a relapse, and died January 16, 1898.


*Republished with permission of the Patent and Trademark Office Society from the article Biographical Sketches of the Commissioners of Patents, 18 J.P.O.S. 145 (1936).  The United States Patent and Trademark Office is grateful for the Society’s assistance.