About Patented History

Discovering History Through Invention

I’ve been reading patents nearly every day for decades now. I’m a patent attorney, so my daily work has me reading lots of them. Most of these are newer patents and the effort is usually for client-based work.

Somewhere along the way, though, I started reading old patents. 1900s, 1880s, and even earlier.

For fun.

These old patents fascinated me because they allowed me to appreciate the giant leaps made in particular technologies, between then and now. Recent patents are a great tool for gaining a sense of incremental* change that has happened over the last few years. The truly old stuff reveals the revolutionary change we’ve gone through over the last century plus.

At some point along the way, I started looking beyond the technology described in these old patents and began researching the inventors and companies behind them. I forget when it started, exactly, but I think it had to do with an inventor from my hometown of Toledo, Ohio. He was active in the early 1900s and had a shop down the street from my law office. A few Google searches, and suddenly I was digging into his personal story.

And I was hooked.

FIG. 1 from U.S. Patent No. 1,029,645

His story is quite remarkable (and I’ll tell it here, soon), but I quickly realized there was something bigger at play—history.

These old patents are an entry point into history.

I’ve been reading and researching old patents ever since. They’ve given me an entry into the types of history you might expect—personal, family, technology, corporate, and industrial histories. But, they’ve also introduced me to fascinating stories of art, war, crime, government, health, and many others.

The coronavirus pandemic gave me (and everyone!) a little downtime over the last few weeks, so I decided to build something.

PATENTEDHISTORYis the result of this effort. I’m building it as a home for my research into old patents. My goal is for the site to be more like a working notebook than a blog. I post patents as I discover them to give a bit of insight into the stories I’m currently researching. I add notes to document tidbits and connections I notice as I go, and photos of patent marks I notice in the world (these are one way I identify patents for researching). Ultimately, I’ll write posts that synthesize everything and tell the stories behind the patents.

I’m enjoying it immensely, and hope you’ll follow along.