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Early Unnumbered U.S. Patents, 1790-1836

The founding fathers recognized the necessity of encouraging technological development by protecting the rights of inventors; Articles I, Section 8 of the new Constitution specifically empowered the Congress "to promote the progress of science and useful arts by securing for limited times . . . to inventors the exclusive right to their respective . . . discoveries." On April 10, 1790, President Washington signed the bill which laid the foundation for the modern patent system. Among the earliest patents issued were those for such critical inventions as Eli Whitney’s cotton gin, the McCormick reaper, and the Colt revolver. These inventions dramatically changed the course of American history by making possible the rise of "King Cotton", the increased agricultural production prerequisite to an industrial revolution, and the winning of the West.

Until 1836, when the Patent Law was revised, patents were not numbered when they were issued, making it difficult for scholars to use them. Additionally, many original records of the earliest patents were lost when the Patent Office burned on December 15, 1836. Research Publications conducted an exhaustive search for these early patents, has drawn these patents together from every available source, and produced a microfilm file of them which is the most complete in existence. Additionally, RPI has prepared a four-part index in printed form for the unnumbered patents. The patents are indexed alphabetically by class; by subject; chronologically; and alphabetically by patentee name. This index makes these patents accessible to historians, and makes it possible to trace the relationship between technological innovations and American economic growth.