The Curious World of Patent Models Opens at MOSH!

July 22, 2012 1 comment Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

A new exhibit is opening today at the Museum of Science & History. The Curious World of Patent Models takes visitors on a fascinating journey back in time to discover the origins of some cool inventions.

Museum visitors will recognize the names associated with many of the models:  a still from the Beam family of Bardstown, Kentucky, Christian Steinway’s capodastro frame for pianofortes, Eli Whitney’s (the son) breech-loading firearm, John Sargent’s improvement for safe doors, and a “machine for casting confectionary” by Stephen Whitman.
The U.S. Patent Office was formed by Thomas Jefferson in 1790 and throughout the Industrial Revolution, inventors were required to submit a working, scale model of their invention when applying for a patent.  The Curious World of Patent Models features these models, including the original hand-written tags.   In order to obtain a patent, an application had to be accompanied by a working model of the invention.  These were called “patent models,” and were generally no larger than 12 inches square.

The models were made for the patent examiners, who compared similar inventions side by side, to see if the patents were new and different.  It was a unique system because no other patent system anywhere in the world required models – then or now.  The Patent Act of 1870 rescinded the model requirement, although models continued to be submitted and accepted through the early 20th Century.
The Rothschild Patent Model Collection is the largest private collection of viewable United States patent models in the world, and includes the work of many women, foreign and famous inventors. The 58 models in this exhibition were created between 1852 and 1902 and vary from household to mechanical and technical to simplistic.
Today, there are more than 7 million patents, but applicants now submit only written specifications and diagrams of their inventions.
The Curious World of Patent Models will be on display at MOSH through September 30th.

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