USPTO Museum Opens New Exhibit Showcasing American Ingenuity

Press Release

Kim Byars

Washington - The Department of Commerce's United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) today unveiled its newest periodic exhibit "Patent Models: Icons of Innovation," in celebration of the 155th anniversary of Thomas Edison's birthday.

In the 19th Century, the United States was the only industrializing nation that required patent applicants to submit a model along with a description and detailed drawing of their invention, resulting in thousands of crafted miniature machines. Those that survive today compose a national treasure chest that captures a very specific chapter of American history - a treasure chest the USPTO is committed to preserving. The USPTO exhibit showcases some of the more interesting patent models from this era.

Patent models were first housed in Blodgett's Hotel in downtown Washington after the Patent Office moved there in 1810. Two fires and the general chaos of the Civil War threatened their future before their enormous quantity made them an unwanted nuisance in the 1880s. In the next century, the miniature machines changed hands many times, surviving more fires, auctions and general neglect.

The Smithsonian Institution received some historically significant models in 1907 and 1924, but many boxes were never opened. Today, thousands of patent models have ended up in the hands of New York businessman Alan Rothschild. The model collector and inventor in 1998 opened the Rothschild Petersen Patent Model Museum, the largest accessible private collection of patent models in the country.

Among the 50 models on display are some of the most significant in the Rothschild collection, plus Thomas Edison's light bulb, (# 223,898). Although Edison did not invent the light bulb, he dramatically improved it by developing carbonized filaments that would glow for hours inside their oxygen-emptied glass globes.

Nelson Goodyear's India Rubber (# 8075) is also displayed. Other models of significant inventions on display include the Washing Machine (#90416), the Steam Generator (#80543), the Telegraph (#76748), the Universal Joint (#197541), the Refrigerator (#88468), the Sewing Machine (#16434), and the Plow (#369727).

A patent signed by President Thomas Jefferson and Secretary of State James Madison will also be displayed.

Established in 1995, the Patent and Trademark Museum strives to educate the public about the patent and trademark systems and the important role intellectual property protection plays in our nation's social and economic health. The museum features a permanent exhibit that explains what intellectual property is and how it is protected. It is now run by the National Inventor's Hall of Fame.

"Patent Models: Icons of Innovation" runs through May 2002 and can be seen at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Museum, 2121 Crystal Drive, Suite 0100, Arlington VA.

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