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The Egolf Patent Collection: Presidential Patents

Exhibit Title: The Egolf Patent Collection

Patent Image


Under the act of April 10, 1790, patents had to be signed by the President. This practice probably was an effort to follow the English model whereby patents were signed by the King. They also had to be signed by the Secretary of State and the Attorney General. In 1836 this function was assigned to the Commissioner of Patents.

Shown here is a patent issued in 1806 to James Pountney Wightman of Massachusetts for a mixture to render woolen cloth water-proof. It is signed by Thomas Jefferson as President and James Madison as Secretary of State. It also is signed by John Breckinridge as Attorney General. Originally from Virginia, Breckinridge moved to Kentucky and eventually was elected a U.S. Senator in 1800. Appointed Attorney General in 1805, he was the first cabinet-level appointment from “the west.” Unfortunately, he served only briefly in that office, dying from tuberculosis in 1806, only two months after he signed this patent.