December 15, 1836 — The U.S. Patent Office, then located at the Blodgett’s Hotel in Washington, D.C., was consumed by fire today — making itthe first of several disastrous fires the organization has had in its history.
Historians explain that an initial investigation considered the possibility of arson due to suspected corruption in the Post Office, which shared the same building, but it was later ruled out. The cause was ultimately determined to be accidental. This event is considered to be a turning point in the history of the Patent Office.
Local fire suppression efforts were incapable of preventing the damage due to lack of fire personnel and old equipment. Many patent documents and models from the preceding three decades were irretrievably lost.
As a result of the fire, Congress and the newly legally revamped Patent Office changed the way it handled its recordkeeping, assigning numbers to patents and requiring multiple copies of supporting documentation.
In the 46 years prior to the fire, the United States government had issued about 10,000 patents. Congress acted to restore those records that could be reconstructed from private files and reproduce models, which were deemed the most valuable and interesting.
Patents whose records were not restored were cancelled. There were a total of 2,845 patents restored. Today, there are more than 50 million paper patent documents stored at USPTO, and available to the public.
Words of Wisdom for December 15, 2016
“Everything that can be invented has been invented.”
— Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, United States Patent and Trademark Office (1898 to 1901), who was later a United States federal judge