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At 3:00 on the morning of December 15, 1836, a Patent Office messenger sleeping in the building awoke to thick smoke emanating from the basement. He acted quickly, rousing his colleagues to make a desperate attempt to enter the portion of the building that housed the patent documents. Outside the patent room, they encountered blocked doors, heavy smoke, and unreachable windows. By the time the fire department arrived, it was too late; the Patent Office was doomed, and eventually burnt to the ground. 

Tragically, an estimated 7,000 models, 9,000 drawings and 230 books- as well as applications, correspondence, and patent copies- were destroyed by the blaze. Some of these documents were recovered with the help of inventors who still held the original patents, but a cursory examination of the records recovered by the Patent Office revealed that their efforts to restore the archive were not very successful. Unfortunately, many of the destroyed patents were issued between 1790 and 1822, and had expired at the time of the fire; this made the recovery process even more difficult (Early Unnumbered U.S. Patents, 1790-1836). Of the estimated 10,000 patents issued before 1836, only 2,800 were ever recovered (Dood, Kendall S., Patent Drawings:  Milestone Documents in the National Archives). Very few of the recovered patents are extant today. 

The following pages detail our unique collection of surviving patent documents signed by some of the most notable and revered presidents in American history. These documents are signed by such luminaries as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, and Andrew Jackson, among others. Patents were typically signed by both the President and Secretary of State, and, since four of the five presidents elected after Washington also served as Secretary of State, many of these early patent documents are actually endorsed by two presidents. 

P. 1: Presidential Patent Collection Introduction
P. 2: Presidential Patent Collection Featured Item
p. 3: Presidential Patent Collection Individual Documents For Sale


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