Inventive Thinking and Creativity Gallery

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U.S. Constitution & Patents

USPTO

This photo gallery accompanies Inventive Thinking and Creativity, a set of lesson plans and activities for teaching about inventions, inventive thinking and creativity.

Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8 of the U.S. Constitution that concerns patents and copyrights.

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The First Patent Granted in the United States

The First Patent Grant in the United States
The First U.S. Patent Granted. USPTO

Copy of the first U.S. patent issued and signed by George Washington in 1790.

The patent grant you see reproduced above was the first one issued by the United States, to Samuel Hopkins of Pittsford, Vermont on July 31, 1790. The patent was signed by President George Washington, as well as Attorney General Edmund Randolph and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson.

The Hopkins patent was for an "Improvement, not known before such Discovery, in the making of Pot ash and Pearl ash by a new apparatus and Process", and was granted for a term of fourteen years. The name potash refers to several potassium salts, mild alkalis, which were derived from the ashes of timber or other plants. It was also known in a caustic form when mixed with lime. In reacting with fats or oils, potash produced a soft soap. It was an essential ingredient in the manufacture of glass, alum (salts of aluminum, used chiefly in medicine), and saltpeter (an important ingredient in gun powder). Potash also played an important role in bleaching, mining, metallurgy, and other industrial interests. Its many applications served as an indication of the emerging chemical industry in the nineteenth century.

In the summer of 1956, the Vermont Historic Sites Commission erected a marker at the former residence of Samuel Hopkins. The original patent granted to him still exists in the collections of the Chicago Historical Society.

Two other patents were granted that year: one for a special process of making candles and one for improved flour milling machinery. 

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Abraham Lincoln is the only U.S. president to receive a patent.

Lincoln was a congressman from Illinois in 1849 when he was issued Patent No. 6,469 for a "manner of buoying vessels."

As a young man, Lincoln took a boatload of merchandise down the Mississippi River from New Salem to New Orleans. The boat slid onto a dam and was dislodged only after heroic efforts. A few years later, while crossing the Great Lakes, Lincoln's ship ran afoul of a sandbar. These two similar experiences led him to invent a solution to the problem. The invention consists of a set of bellows attached to the hull of a ship just below the water line. When a vessel is in danger of getting stuck in shallow water, the bellows are filled with air, and the vessel, thus buoyed, floats clear of the obstacle. Although Lincoln probably never profited from his invention, he was a strong supporter of the patent system, saying that the patent system "added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius, in the discovery and production of new and useful things."

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Alexander Graham Bell - Telegraphy (Telephone) Patent

Alexander Graham Bell - Telegraphy Patent
United States Patent No. 174,465, issued to Alexander Graham Bell in 1876. USPTO

"Well informed people know it is impossible to transmit the voice over wires, and that, were it possible to do so, the thing would be of no practical value." Boston Post editorial, 1865

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Design Patent Issued for Statue of Liberty

Design Patent Issued for Statue of Liberty
Design Patent Issued for Statue of Liberty. USPTO

Perhaps the most famous of all design patents is the Statue of Liberty.

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Thomas Alva Edison - Patent for Electro Light

Thomas Alva Edison - Patent for Electro Light
Thomas Alva Edison - Patent for Electro Light. USPTO

Contrary to popular belief, Thomas Alva Edison didn't "invent" the light bulb, but rather he improved upon a 50-year-old idea.

In 1879, using lower current, a small carbonized filament, and an improved vacuum inside the globe, he was able to produce a reliable, long-lasting source of light. Perhaps more importantly, Edison's invention led to an industry to distribute electric power creating jobs for many Americans. Edison was granted his first patent on June 1, 1869, and averaged one patent application every 11 days between 1869 and 1910. America's most prolific inventor received 1,093 patents--more than any other person before or since. While he reveled in and profited from his successes, he lived with failure every day. "Results? Why man, I've gotten a lot of results. I know several thousand things that won't work." Thomas Alva Edison, 1900 In 1973, Edison was the first inventor inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

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Lewis Howard Latimer - Patent for Electric Lamp

Lewis Howard Latimer - Patent for Electric Lamp
Lewis Howard Latimer - Patent for Electric Lamp. USPTO

Lewis Howard Latimer was employed by a Patent Solicitor where he began the study of drafting. His talent for drafting and his creative genius led him to invent a method of making carbon filaments for the electric incandescent lamp. Latimer was the original draftsman for Thomas Edison and the star witness in suits which infringed upon Edison's patents.

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Granville T. Woods Patent for Electric Railway

Granville T Woods Patent for Electric Railway
Granville T. Woods Patent for Electric Railway. USPTO

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Orville and Wilbur Wright's Patent for a Flying Machine

Orville and Wilbur Wright Patent for Flying Machine
Orville and Wilbur Wright Patent for Flying Machine. USPTO

"Heavier than air flying machines are impossible." Lord Kelving, President, Royal Society, c. 1895

Orville Wright (1871-1948) and Wilbur Wright (1867-1912) requested a patent application for a "flying machine" nine months before their successful flight in December 1903, which Orville Wright recorded in his diary.

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Harry Houdini Patent for a Diver's Suit

Harry Houdini Patent for a Diver's Suit
Harry Houdini Patent for a Diver's Suit. USPTO

Famous magician Harry Houdini {born Ehrich Weiss in Budapest, Hungary in 1874} was also an inventor.

Houdini began his career as a trapeze artist and was later renowned as a magician and an escape artist. He astonished audiences by escaping from handcuffs, straitjackets, and prison cells. Houdini's invention for a "diver's suit" permits divers, in case of danger, to quickly divest themselves of the suit while submerged and to safely escape and reach the surface of the water. In his later years, Houdini put his extensive knowledge of the occult and magic to public benefit by exposing the tricks of fraudulent spiritualistic mediums. Houdini left his entire library of magic to the U.S. Library of Congress.

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Levi Strauss' & Jacob Davis's Patent for Metal Riveted Jeans

Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis co-patented the method of making metal-riveted pants.
Levi Strauss & Jacob Davis Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis co-patented the method of making metal-riveted pants. Mary Bellis

Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis co-patented the process of putting rivets in pants for strength thereby making the first pair of modern jeans.

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Garrett A Morgan Traffic Light Patent

Garrett A Morgan Traffic Light Patent
Garrett A Morgan Traffic Light Patent. USPTO

After witnessing a collision between an automobile and a horse-drawn carriage, Garrett Morgan took his turn at inventing a traffic signal.

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George Washington Carver's Patent for Paint & Stain and Process

George Washington Carver's Patent for Paint & Stain and Process
U.S. 1,541,478 Paint and Stain and Producing the Same June 9, 1925. George W Carver Tuskegee, Alabama. USPTO

"When you can do the common things in life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world." George Washington Carver

George Washington Carver worked at developing industrial applications from agricultural crops. During World War I, he found a way to replace the textile dyes formerly imported from Europe. He produced dyes of 500 different shades of dye,

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Patent for a climbing or trailing rose

The first plant patent was granted to Henry F. Bosenberg for a climbing or trailing rose.
The first plant ever patented. The first plant patent was granted to Henry F. Bosenberg for a climbing or trailing rose. USPTO

Since 1930, plants have been patentable. The first plant patent was granted to Henry F. Bosenberg for a climbing or trailing rose.

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An Wang Patented Pulse Transfer Controlling Devices

An Wang Patented Pulse Transfer Controlling Devices
An Wang Patented Pulse Transfer Controlling Devices. USPTO

An Wang was born in Shanghai, China. He immigrated to the United States in 1945 and received his Ph.D. in applied physics from Harvard University in 1948. He founded Wang Laboratories in 1951 to develop specialty electronic devices. Dr. Wang is responsible for the original development of the basic components and systems of digital computing machines. He held more than 35 patents, revolutionizing the information processing industry. Dr. Wang was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1988.

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First Transistor Radio

First Transistor Radio - Regency
The first transistor radio--the Regency TR-1. First Transistor Radio - Regency. Courtesy of Texas Instruments

In 1954, Texas Instruments was the first company to start commercial production of silicon transistors instead of using germanium. Silicon raised the power output while lowering operating temperatures, enabling the miniaturization of electronics. The first commercial transistor radio was also produced in 1954 - powered by TI silicon transistors.

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First Integrated Circuit Invented by Jack Kilby

First Integrated Circuit Invented by Jack Kilby
First Integrated Circuit Invented by Jack Kilby. Courtesy of Texas Instruments

Jack Kilby invented the integrated circuit at Texas Instruments in 1958. Comprised of only a transistor and other components on a slice of germanium, Kilby's invention, 7/16-by-1/16-inches in size, revolutionized the electronics industry. The roots of almost every electronic device we take for granted today.

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Arthur Melin's Patent for the Hula Hoop Toy

Arthur Melin's patent for a Hula Hoop Toy
Arthur Melin's patent for a Hula Hoop Toy. Mary Bellis

While the Hula Hoop is an ancient invention, there have been more recent patents issued for Hula Hoops. For example, toy manufacturer, Arthur Melin received U.S. Patent Number 3,079,728 on March 5, 1963 for a Hoop Toy.

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Phillip J. Stevens - Variable Area Nozzle

Phillip J. Stevens invented a new nozzle to control delivery of propellants from rocket motors.
Phillip J. Stevens invented a new nozzle to control delivery of propellants from rocket motors. USPTO

Phillip J. Stevens invented a new nozzle to control delivery of propellants from rocket motors.

Phillip J. Stevens holds several patents for innovative concepts in weaponry. He directed the Minuteman III Weapon System at TRW, Inc., and founded Ultrasystems, Inc., a high-technology business enterprise. A former director of the United Indian Development Association, he received multiple awards for leadership, innovation, and support of the Native American people. Phillip J. Stevens with co-inventor, Larry E. Hughes, invented a new nozzle to control delivery of propellants from rocket motors. The new variable area throat nozzle was simple in construction, light in weight, efficient in operation, and relatively inexpensive to manufacture.

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Ysidro Martinez - Knee Implant Prosthesis

Ysidro Martinez' invention of a below-the-knee prosthesis avoids some of the problems associated wit
Ysidro Martinez' invention of a below-the-knee prosthesis avoids some of the problems associated with conventional artificial limbs. USPTO

Ysidro M. Martinez' invention of a below-the-knee prosthesis avoids some of the problems associated with conventional artificial limbs. Martinez, an amputee himself, took a theoretical approach in his design. He does not attempt to replicate the natural limb with articulated joints in the ankle or foot which is seen by Martinez as causing poor gait. His prosthesis has a high center of mass and is light in weight to facilitate acceleration and deceleration and reduce friction. The foot is considerably shorter to control acceleration forces, reducing the friction and pressure.

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Philip Leder - Transgenic Non-Human Mammals

Philip Leder - Patent for Transgenic Non-Human Mammals
Philip Leder was the first person to patent living organisms. Philip Leder - Patent for Transgenic Non-Human Mammals. USPTO

The mouse that went to Harvard... was the first animal to be patented in the United States. In the 1980s, Philip Leder devised a method of introducing specific oncogenes (genes with the potential to cause other cells to become cancerous) into mice. The transgenic non-human eukaryotic animal is bred to contract breast cancer for medial research to facilitate carcinogen testing and development of cancer therapies. As you can imagine, the patenting of living organisms (nonhuman) has generated controversy and a lot of public debate on the ethical, religious, economic, and regulatory issues arising from their use.