William Edgar Simonds


Descended through his father from Daniel Webster, and through his mother from Roger de Coigneries, who came to England with William the Conqueror, it might well be expected that William Edgar Simonds would make his mark in the world. Also he was another "Connecticut Yankee," being born at Canton, Connecticut, November 24, 1842.

His father having died when he was three years old, the mother succeeded in giving the children an excellent education. At the age of 16 William worked and contributed to the support of the family, saving enough besides to finance a normal school training for himself. From 1860 to 1862 he taught school, and then entered the Union army as a volunteer.

In 1863 he left the army with a creditable record and entered Yale Law School, graduating in 1865. After practicing general law he went to patent law, and then proceeded to write a number of well-received and authoritative books on that subject. He also lectured on patent law at Yale and at Columbian College (now George Washington University) in Washington.

He served both as a state legislator and as a Congressman, his Congressional career being marked particularly by the procurance, after a protracted fight, of the passage of his copyright bill, which became the first international copyright act of the United States, a measure which had been unsuccessfully agitated in various congresses since the days of Henry Clay. As a result thereof, France made him a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor.

President Harrison appointed him Commissioner of Patents on July 1, 1891, which position he held until April 15, 1893. Mr. Simonds' special fitness for the office was indisputable, and his selection was favorably commented upon and proved agreeable to all. His administration of the office, including some hundreds of decisions, the introduction of reforms and unequalled reports to Congress, was pronounced phenomenal, even by political opponents. As with most of the other Commissioners, much remedial legislation was urged by Commissioner Simonds in his reports.

Upon the appointment by President Cleveland of his successor, John S. Seymour, Mr. Simonds returned to Hartford to his law practice and remained actively engaged therewith until a month before his death, which occurred in Hartford, March 14, 1903, of a complication of diseases.


*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.