Abraham Lincoln was issued a patent for his invention to lift boats over shoals and other obstructions in a river.
As a teenager the future President had taken a flatboat along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. After moving to Illinois he was employed by Denton Offutt a merchant and owner of a general store, to ferry goods along the Mississippi and its tributaries.
During these river trips Lincoln’s boats had run aground on more than one occasion, leading to the exhausting process of freeing the boat before it sank or the cargo went overboard. These experiences were to provide the inspiration for his invention.
Lincoln is believed to have begun work on his device in 1848, in which ‘adjustable buoyant air chambers’ attached to the boat could be forced under the water and inflated to float the boat free of the obstruction without the need to unload any of the cargo. He filed an application to the Patent Office on 10 March 1849, and Patent No. 6469 was awarded two months later on 22 May.
A model of the device is said to have been produced with the assistance of Walter Davis, a mechanic from Springfield, although Paul Johnston from the National Museum of American History believes it may instead have been made in Washington. Whatever the truth behind the creation of the model, this is the furthest that Lincoln’s invention ever got since nobody ever tried to install the system on a full-size boat.
The model itself can be seen on display at the Smithsonian Institute, and is claimed by the curator of the Marine Collection to be ‘one of the half dozen or so most valuable things in our collection.’ The invention is also significant in that it makes Abraham Lincoln the only President in the history of the United States to have been awarded a patent.
The DuPont company’s organic chemist Wallace Carothers received a patent for linear condensation polymers, the basis of the material better known as nylon.
Carothers joined DuPont from Harvard University, where he had taught organic chemistry. He was initially reluctant to move due to concerns that his history of depression would be a problem in an industrial setting, but DuPont executive Hamilton Bradshaw persuaded him otherwise and he took up his role in February 1928.
Having thrown himself into researching the structure and synthesis of polymers, Carothers and his team were responsible for creating the first synthetic replacement for rubber which was later named neoprene. Their laboratory, which was nicknamed “Purity Hall”, then began to focus on producing synthetic fibres that could be used in place of silk as this was becoming harder to source due to declining relations with Japan following the Great Depression.
On 28 February 1935 Carothers produced a fibre initially referred to as polyamide 6-6 as its components had six carbon atoms. Although the manufacturing process was complicated, DuPont were excited by the new material’s strength and elasticity and ordered the laboratory to press ahead with their research. However, plagued by depression, Carothers committed suicide in a hotel room in April 1937 by drinking potassium cyanide dissolved in lemon juice.
DuPont continued to refine the manufacturing process and revealed women’s stockings made of nylon, as it became known, at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. By the time the first pairs were made commercially available in 1940, the company had invested $27 million into the development of a material that is now found in everything from guitar strings to medical implants.
Thomas T. Goldsmith Jr was the director of research at DuMont Laboratories in New Jersey where he was exploring the use of cathode ray tubes in television sets. It was during this period that he and Estle Ray Mann created their game, which was directly influenced by Second World War radar displays. The two scientists combined a cathode ray tube with an oscilloscope to allow a player to simulate launching an explosive shell at enemy targets in what they called The Cathode Ray Tube Amusement Device.
The patent stated that targets needed to be physically positioned on the screen of the device using transparent overlays. The player then used the controls of the oscilloscope to position a spot of light created by the CRT, much like the controls on an Etch A Sketch toy, in order to hit the target. When a switch was flicked the spot would move in a parabolic arc, mimicking the flight of a shell, at the end of which the light would become unfocused in imitation of an explosion. If the spread of the beam hit the target, the player scored a hit. Additional controls allowed the player to change the angle and trajectory of the light beam, and change the time delay before detonation.
Despite securing a patent for the device, the game never went into commercial production. The parts were too expensive and DuMont Laboratories were more interested in advancing television technology. Consequently The Cathode Ray Tube Amusement Device’s place in video game history is negligible, and it is likely that later developers created their own games without any knowledge of the work done by Goldsmith and Mann.
On the 31st December 1935, the board game Monopoly was patented. Although the patent for the game was awarded to Charles B. Darrow, a Philadelphia heating salesman who had lost his job during the Great Depression, it’s now widely recognised that he was just one of many people who developed the complex design and rules that we now know as Monopoly.
As early as 1902 an Illinois-born writer and engineer called Elizabeth Magie created a board game called The Landlord’s Game which bears striking similarities to Monopoly. She patented this game in 1904 and approached Parker Brothers with the idea in around 1910. Although they declined to publish it, her self-produced copies became popular with Quakers, university students, and members of the public who supported Georgist economics.
Magie, by now married and with the new name Phillips, re-patented an updated version in 1924 and was again turned down by Parker Brothers. However, the updated version spread widely through word-of-mouth, with Charles Darrow’s wife eventually learning it. Darrow began to distribute his own version of the game, and in October 1934 was himself rejected by Parker Brothers who found the game “too complicated, too technical, [and] took too long to play.” However, successful Christmas sales led Parker Brothers to reverse their decision and the game from Darrow in March 1935. Before the end of the year they learnt that he was not the sole inventor, but pressed ahead with the purchase and helped him secure a patent, while they bought up the patents to similar games – including The Landlord’s Game – to ensure that they had definitive ownership of the idea.
On the 20th May 1873, Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis secured the patent for riveted blue jeans. The rivets strengthened the jeans, reducing the likelihood of tearing and making them perfect for manual labour.
Strauss was a German-born businessman who sold fabric on the West Coast of the USA, and Davis was a Russian-born tailor working in Nevada. Their relationship began as supplier and customer – Davis used to buy fabric from Strauss’s warehouse to manufacture garments. It was Davis who came up with the idea of strengthening the stress points with rivets after the wife of a woodcutter asked if he could make a pair of durable trousers for her husband.
Realising that his idea had enormous potential, Davis wanted to patent it. He approached Strauss with a business proposal whereby Strauss would finance the paperwork and the two men would share the patent. Strauss agreed, and patent 139,121 was granted on 20th May 1873. In return, Davis became the production manager for Levi Strauss & Co.
Known as ‘waist overalls’ at the time, the term ‘jeans’ didn’t become associated with the finished product until sometime in the 1920s. However, the product proved an enormous success, leading the company to open their first factory less than a decade later. Interestingly, just a few months after securing the patent for copper riveted jeans, Davis came up with another idea that still exists on Levi jeans – the double orange thread design on the back pocket.