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  • Writer's pictureDavid Baker

DID YOU KNOW? A catastrophic fire destroyed all the USPTO records in 1836. But, there's hope.

The records destroyed in the fire no longer record protected patents. However, they do provide an insight into some of the earliest recorded inventions that impacted the development of the United States and its industries.

As Danny Freedman writes in this month's issue of Smithsonian magazine, a catastrophic 1836 blaze destroyed thousands of records that catalogued U.S. inventions, but recent discoveries seem to indicate that originals may still exist and could be recovered.

A horrified crowd assembled outside Blodget’s Hotel, where the U.S. Patent Office shared space with the Post Office, and the sun rose on December 15, 1836, to find the entirety of the nation’s intellectual property records turned to ash: around 10,000 patents in total—every invention registered with the government since 1790. After the fire, the Patent Office—now the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)—implored inventors to send in their original documentation, to be duplicated. That effort formally ended in 1847, and to this day only around 2,845 of the lost patents have been fully replicated in the agency’ s records.
But the USPTO has revived the rescue program­—and it’s going brilliantly. Most notable among the recent discoveries are two—authenticated this summer—belonging to 19th-century steamboat magnate Robert Fulton.

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