The Pond Carriage Bolt Patent Issues as Civil War Begins to End

The stark contrast between the realities of “hard times” and the ongoing efforts of inventors, innovators, and, indeed, the Patent Office always reminds me that, even in the toughest of times, progress marches on.

U.S. Patent No. 47,245, issued to Alvin Pond of Hamden Connecticut, might be my favorite example of this contrast.

The story of the ‘245 patent is one of coincidence and symbolism.

It initially caught my eye because of its issue date, April 11, 1865. I knew that the Civil War had ended (or began to end, really), in early April, 1865. Quick research confirmed that Robert E. Lee surrendered the last major Confederate army to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865, which symbolically, but not effectively, ended the Civil War.

Pond’s patent issued two days after the beginning of the end of the Civil War. There’s the contrast I love so much. And it’s purely coincidental.

But that’s just the beginning of the story.

While General Lee surrendered at Appomattox two days before the ‘245 patent issued, President Lincoln delivered his last public address on the actual issue date, April 11, 1865 (speech text). The content of his remarks caught many in attendance by surprise as it lacked the expected celebratory tone considering Lee’s surrender two days earlier. Instead, Lincoln used the speech to introduce the complex topic of reconstruction and to express his first public support for black suffrage.

Again, coincidence.

Digging deeper, though, the symbolism aspect of the patent kicks in.

The ‘245 patent is directed to carriage bolts and methods of their manufacture. The key feature of a Pond carriage bolt is that the square portion of the bolt shaft is terminated “with sharp corners at the point where the rounded portion commences.” The sharp points “prevent[] the bolt splitting any piece of wood when driving into a hole or mortise….”

Pond’s invention is, by any measure, an incremental one. He didn’t invent the carriage bolt; he simply improved upon existing carriage bolts.

His timing, though, was perfect.

The already-growing fastener industry was primed and ready when Reconstruction arrived. As the nation set out to rebuild, fasteners became a critical building block for the effort.

A portion of the front page of U.S. Patent No. 47,245 shows the inventor and Assignee names, the patent title, and issue date.
Masthead from U.S. Patent No. 47,245, directed to the Pond Carriage Bolt

Despite its simplicity, Pond’s invention was an important one. After selling an earlier carriage bolt company, Thomas H. Lamson formed a new entity in Connecticut that operated as The Mt. Carmel Bolt Co.. The company purchased the ‘245 patent and, after some reorganization, became the Lamson, Sessions & Co. After initial success, the company moved west to Cleveland in 1869 to expand its production capacity, presumably necessitated by Reconstruction-based demand. (W.R. Wilbur, History of the Bolt and Nut Industry of America, pp.164-171(1905)) The company continues today as Lamson & Sessions and is still headquartered in Cleveland.

Consider, now, the events of April 11, 1865 in Washington, D.C.

The Patent Office, located in what is now known as The Old Patent Office Building, issued the ‘245 patent, likely in the morning or during the day. Later, in the evening, President Lincoln spoke to a crowd at the White House, about eight (modern) blocks away from the Patent Office. He talked of reconstruction and how the task had suddenly become “pressed much more closely upon our attention.”

Lincoln began preparing the nation for Reconstruction hours after the Patent Office issued a patent that would become foundational intellectual property for a company that contributed to the success of the effort.

There’s the symbolism.

And, if that’s not enough, consider one more coincidence. John Wilkes Booth was in the crowd as Lincoln delivered his Reconstructions speech. After hearing it, he vowed: “That is the last speech he will make.”

Booth assassinated Lincoln four days later, on April 15, 1865. There’s no evidence that any carriage bolts were involved.