Benton J. Hall


As a young man, having received but a limited collegiate and academic training, Benton J. Hall was greatly stimulated and broadened by the potent influence of a class of men, newcomers into Iowa in the decade and a half preceding the Civil War, by whom he was soon to be accepted as an equal and afterwards recognized as a leader. The influence of this galaxy of luminaries colored Mr. Hall's whole life and included men destined to become Senators, Cabinet members, Federal judges, and Supreme Court Justices.

Benton J. Hall, another in the long list of the sons of Ohio who achieved promise, was born January 5, 1835, at Mt. Vernon in that state. The father took his family to Iowa in 1840 and became very prominent in governmental affairs of the state, being one of the first Justices of the Iowa Supreme Court. Young Hall followed in his father's footsteps, and the many eulogies bestowed upon the father were later merited and won in an equal or even greater degree by the son.

Young Benton was educated in various institutions in Iowa and Illinois, beginning the study of law with his father in 1856. He was admitted to practice the next year, and became in succession a member of the State Legislature, State Senate, and Congress. He was appointed Commissioner of Patents by President Cleveland April 11, 1887, and served until March 31, 1889, when he was succeeded by Charles E. Mitchell of Connecticut, President Harrison's appointee.

In his decisions Commissioner Hall added his very valuable and lasting contribution to our great system of patent practice; thereby influencing its development even as his own development was influenced by the associates of his early manhood. One cannot but be impressed by the polished style and literary merit of his writings, the clearness, the aptness of his figurative speech and especially by the sound reasoning and logical deductions, indicating the careful consideration and study given to each proposition.

The latter part of Commissioner Hall's administration was marked by the hearing of one great case which attracted national attention, and in which appeared as counsel for the various interests, the greatest array of distinguished lawyers ever assembled in a single case before a Commissioner of Patents. This was McDonough v. Gray v. Bell v. Edison, 46 O. G. 1245, and was an attempt to revive the telephone cases by having the former interference set aside or reopened, which, if successful, would have resulted in prolonging the monopoly as covered in the original Bell patents, then nearly expired, for an additional seventeen years. The record, including exhibits and briefs, embraced 10,000 pages, and the hearing, involving an unprecedented array of celebrated and distinguished men of national repute, constituted one of the most remarkable, unique, and memorable hearings in the entire history of the Patent Office.

After leaving the Patent Office in May 1889, Mr. Hall removed to Chicago, where he opened an office for the practice of patent law exclusively, but his health becoming impaired, he returned to his home at Burlington, Iowa, where he died on January 5, 1894.


*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.