Patent Models – A Blast from the Past

Where did The Limited Monopoly® come from anyhow?

US Patent 6,469 What is it and who is the inventor? See answer below.

US Patent 6,469
What is it and who is the inventor? See answer below.

Back in 2005, friends from the Rochester Engineering Society heard that we had set off on our own and asked us to write a short article on patents.  So our first article was aptly named “What is a Patent?”  The topic was simple, straightforward, and didn’t seem like it would be much work to put together. Like most things that Engineers set about doing, the simple did not end up that way, and of course took more time than expected.

Nonetheless, we accepted the invitation to write a follow up column, and eventually named the column The Limited Monopoly®, which is one descriptor of the right granted by a patent.     But we kept on writing, kind of like that scene from Forrest Gump where he says, “I just felt like running.”   This month, we celebrate our 100th issue.  Writing The Limited Monopoly® has been a great opportunity for us – the opportunity to teach a little bit about patents to you, our engineering and science colleagues, hopefully to your benefit in some way.

It has also benefited us, because to teach any subject, you must first learn it well.  Each month’s column begins with a research project, to “study up” on the topic.  We always learn new things when writing a column and strive to provide clear and correct information on the subjects that we cover. This knowledge base of patent law articles can be accessed on line at our various websites1,2,3, and chances are one of our columns will show up on the first page of a Google search on just about any patent-related topic,  thanks in part to their use by other publications, law school professors, and even citations in patents themselves.

Improvement in Road-Wagons to James L. Phillips. 1879. US Patent 216,697

Improvement in Road-Wagons to James L. Phillips. 1879. US Patent 216,697

We are thankful to have the opportunity to share our knowledge with you.  This month, in celebration of the Christmas season and our 100thissue of The Limited Monopoly®, we offer you a pictography of patent models from a long-past era, no doubt eye candy for the Engineer in all of us.  These are some of our personal favorites. We hope you enjoy them.


…And Before You Browse – What is a Patent Model?

In the early U.S. patent system, a miniature but functional model of the invention no larger than one cubic foot was required with the patent application.  These models were often painstakingly made by hand, and in the case of more complex inventions, a great deal of effort went into their creation. Model building was an actual profession for some.

Patent models were required by the U.S. Patent Office from 1790 to 1880.  Over 200,000 models were submitted during this time period.  After a number of fires at the Patent Office, the surviving models were eventually sold off in 1925 to Sir Henry Wellcome, founder of Wellcome Pharmaceutical Company.  After his death, the collection was broken up and sold off in pieces.  The largest remaining collection in the world is now owned by Mr. Alan Rothschild in Cazenovia, New York.  The photos appearing in this article are just a few of the nearly 4,000 patent models in the Rothschild Patent Model Collection.

The collection spans America’s Industrial Revolution, and is a microcosm of the technical world of that day, each model representing not only American ingenuity, but the hopes and dreams of one person – the inventor behind the model. The attention to detail and craftsmanship of many of these models is truly an art form, one that cannot be replicated by today’s 3D printing and rapid prototyping tools.

Lastly, a special thanks to Mr. Alan Rothschild for sharing these photographs.  May your Christmas and New Year be blessed with the spirit of innovation and optimism that is embodied by these wonderful patent models.

Answer:   “Patent number 6,469- Buoying Vessels Over Shoals by Abraham Lincoln of Springfield, Illinois. 1849. The only president to obtain a patent”.


Authors Robert D. Gunderman P.E. (Patent Technologies, LLC and John M. Hammond P.E. (Patent Innovations, LLC are both registered patent agents and licensed professional engineers.  They offer several courses that qualify for PDH credits.  More information can be found at .  Copyright 2014 Robert Gunderman, Jr. and John Hammond

Note:  This short article is intended only to provide cursory background information, and is not intended to be legal advice.  No client relationship with the authors is in any way established by this article.

GRAPHIC CREDITS:  Photos courtesy of Alan Rothschild of the Rothschild Patent Model Collection with the exception of:  the model above (US Patent 6,469), a part of the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institution.

Improvement in Road-Wagons to James L. Phillips. 1879. US Patent 216,697, a part of the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institution. One of the many generous gifts of Alan and Ann Rothschild.

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