The Only President to Hold a Patent

The Only President to Hold a Patent

Abraham Lincoln was the only president to have applied for a patent. His invention was never commercialized.

As a young man, Lincoln took a flat boat load of merchandise down the Mississippi River from his then home in New Salem, Illinois, to New Orleans, Louisiana. At one point the boat slid onto a dam and was set free only after heroic efforts. In later years, while traveling on the Great Lakes, Lincoln’s ship ran afoul of a sandbar. These two similar experiences led him to conceive his invention. Lincoln received Patent #6,469 for “Manner Of Buoying Vessels” on May 22, 1849.

The invention consists of a set of bellows attached to the hull of a ship just below the water line. On reaching a shallow place, the bellows are filled with air and the vessel, thus buoyed, is expected to float clear. The invention was never marketed, probably because the extra weight would have increased the probability of running onto sandbars more frequently. Lincoln whittled the model for his patent application with his own hands. It is on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of American History and is viewable online.

During the Civil War, Lincoln took a personal interest in new weapons, advocating the adoption of ironclad ships, the observation balloon, the breech-loading rifle, and the machine gun.

Lincoln’s law practice included patent litigation. He also spoke on patents. In 1858, Lincoln called the introduction of patent laws one of the three most important developments in the world’s history, along with the discovery of America and the perfection of printing. He ended with “The patent system…added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius…”


More information: Wikipedia