The First 10 U.S. Patents

Illustration by James Poupard from "The young mill-wright & miller's guide : in five parts, embellished with twenty five plates" by Oliver Evans, of Philadelphia. Library of Congress, Wikimedia Commons//Public Domain
Illustration by James Poupard from "The young mill-wright & miller's guide : in five parts, embellished with twenty five plates" by Oliver Evans, of Philadelphia. Library of Congress, Wikimedia Commons//Public Domain

During the spring of 1790, the U.S. government passed the first patent law. It got off to a slow start—only three patents were granted that year. Things eventually heated up, though, and by 1836, the total had climbed to almost 10,000. With documents piling high, the government decided to protect all the paperwork in a new, fire-resistant building. Construction began, and they placed the files in temporary storage.

Which promptly caught on fire.

The blaze gutted the building and destroyed the records—despite there being a fire station right next-door. (It was December, and a wintry freeze mucked up the pumps.) Today—and some 8 million patents later—those documents are called the “X-Patents.” Although most of them are lost, we have a barebones record of what used to be there, giving us a peek into what America’s earliest inventors were up to.

Patent X1

Samuel Hopkins of Pittsford, Vermont snagged the first patent July 31, 1790. His invention improved “the making of Pot ash and Pearl ash by a new apparatus and Process.”

Patent X2

Joseph Sampson’s invention aided the “manufacturing of candles.” Later on, the Boston candle maker helped invent the continuous wick.

Patent X3

Oliver Evans of Philadelphia helped usher in the machine age, inventing an elaborate automated flour mill (top). Evans said the mill worked “without the aid of manual labor, excepting to set the different machines in motion.” (His most famous invention, though, may be the Oruktor Amphibolos, a whimsical looking dredge—and possibly the first self-powered amphibious vehicle.)

Patent X4

Francis Bailey was a Philadelphia-based printer with friends in high places, so it’s no surprise he landed a “punches for type” patent in 1791. Bailey, by the way, printed the first official copy of the Articles of Confederation.

Patent X5

Aaron Putnam’s invention improved the distilling process. Sadly, there’s no record of what he was distilling. He landed the patent just two months before the Whiskey Excise Act became law, the tax that sparked the Whiskey Rebellion.

Patent X6

John Stone of Massachusetts may have saved workers hundreds of man-hours after he invented a pile driver for bridges, which he patented March 10, 1791.

Patent X7 to X10

Philadelphia inventor Samuel Mulliken sweeps the last four spots with some versatile inventions, all patented the same day—March 11, 1791. His first invention was a “machine for threshing grain and corn.” His second invention helped break hemp, while his other two contraptions helped cut and polish marble and raise a nap on cloths.

Kodak’s New Cameras Don't Just Take Photos—They Also Print Them

Your Instagram account wishes it had this clout.
Your Instagram account wishes it had this clout.
Kodak

Snapping a photo and immediately sharing it on social media is definitely convenient, but there’s still something so satisfying about having the printed photo—like you’re actually holding the memory in your hands. Kodak’s new STEP cameras now offer the best of both worlds.

As its name implies, the Kodak STEP Instant Print Digital Camera, available for $70 on Amazon, lets you take a picture and print it out on that very same device. Not only do you get to skip the irksome process of uploading photos to your computer and printing them on your bulky, non-portable printer (or worse yet, having to wait for your local pharmacy to print them for you), but you never need to bother with ink cartridges or toner, either. The Kodak STEP comes with special 2-inch-by-3-inch printing paper inlaid with color crystals that bring your image to life. There’s also an adhesive layer on the back, so you can easily stick your photos to laptop covers, scrapbooks, or whatever else could use a little adornment.

There's a 10-second self-timer, so you don't have to ask strangers to take your group photos.Kodak

For those of you who want to give your photos some added flair, you might like the Kodak STEP Touch, available for $130 from Amazon. It’s similar to the regular Kodak STEP, but the LCD touch screen allows you to edit your photos before you print them; you can also shoot short videos and even share your content straight to social media.

If you want to print photos from your smartphone gallery, there's the Kodak STEP Instant Mobile Photo Printer. This portable $80 printer connects to any iOS or Android device with Bluetooth capabilities and can print whatever photos you send to it.

The Kodak STEP Instant Mobile Photo Printer connects to an app that allows you to add filters and other effects to your photos. Kodak

All three Kodak STEP devices come with some of that magical printer paper, but you can order additional refills, too—a 20-sheet set costs $8 on Amazon.

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13 Inventors Killed By Their Own Inventions

Would you fly in this?
Would you fly in this?

As it turns out, being destroyed by the very thing you create is not only applicable to the sentient machines and laboratory monsters of science fiction.

In this episode of The List Show, Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy takes us on a sometimes tragic, always fascinating journey through the history of invention, highlighting 13 unfortunate innovators whose brilliant schemes brought about their own demise. Along the way, you’ll meet Henry Winstanley, who constructed a lighthouse in the English Channel that was swept out to sea during a storm … with its maker inside. You’ll also hear about stuntman Karel Soucek, who was pushed from the roof of the Houston Astrodome in a custom-designed barrel that landed off-target, fatally injuring its occupant.

And by the end of the episode, you just might be second-guessing your secret plan to quit your day job and become the world’s most daredevilish inventor.

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