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Early patent records found in library

Published August 23, 2004

Lawyers discover lost records in Rauner

The records of 14 historic patents, including an 1826 patent for an internal-combustion engine, have been found at Rauner Special Collections Library by two lawyers doing patent-history research.

Andrew Cernota '99
Andrew Cernota '99

The first 10,000 U.S. patent records, created between 1790 and 1839, were destroyed in a fire at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Washington, and only 2,800 have since been recovered.

But Scott Asmus and Andrew Cernota '99, patent attorneys from the Nashua law firm Maine & Asmus, raised the count while researching the first New Hampshire patent-holder Samuel Morey, who lived most of his life in Orford, N.H.

"We were looking for Morey's patent on the patent website and couldn't find it," Asmus told the Associated Press. "Then we saw something written about the patent in a handbook from the 1960s and went to the library."

There they found inventor copies of 14 early patents. Among them were 10 Morey patents, all for steam-engine technology, one for a steam-powered roasting spit, which was signed by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson in 1793. The documents had been donated by Morey's descendents in the 1960s.

"We confirmed they were originals," Asmus said. "They had big gold stickers and red stickers with wax on them."

Scott Asmus
Scott Asmus

Morey, who died in 1833 at age 71, holds the earliest patent for an internal-combustion engine, although Robert Fulton owned the patent for a steam engine that uses a paddle wheel to propel a boat, so Fulton is generally credited with the invention of the engine.

Morey retired to Fairlee, Vt., for the last years of his life, and Lake Morey in Fairlee is named after him, according to information from the Orford Historical Society.

The U.S. Patent Office tracks the recovery of records destroyed in the 1839 fire, and no one at the office can remember the last time any of the early patents were discovered.

"This isn't something that happens all the time," Brigid Quinn, a spokeswoman for the Patent Office, told The New York Times. "Our information-service people, who keep track of this, were pretty excited."



Abraham Lincoln was the only U.S. president to own a patent, dated 1849, for a device that lifts boats over shoals. It was never manufactured, but a model, whittled by Lincoln, is at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.


The text of a booklet titled Samuel Morey: Inventor Extraordinary by the late Alice Doan Hodgson, published in 1961 for the Orford Historical Society, can be found online.

Questions or comments about this article? We welcome your feedback.

Last Updated: 12/17/08