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Documenting Invention: Patents and the Protection of the Useful Art

Documenting InventionAn exhibition of U.S. patents, patent law, and the protection of invention, from Samuel Morey's 1793 patent signed by George Washington to Charles Dudley's patented design for the Dartmouth senior cane.

The exhibition was curated by Barbara Krieger and Eric Esau and was on display in the Class of 1965 Galleries from August 1 to September 30, 2006.

You may download a small, 8x10 version of the poster: DocumentingInvention.jpg (1.6 MB). You may also download a handlist of the items in this exhibition: DocumentingInvention.

Materials Included in the Exhibition

Case 1. American Patents

  1. United States Congress (1st, 2nd session: 1790) "An Act to Promote the Progress of Useful Arts" Available as an electronic book via the library catalog. Or in microform from Storage (Storage 4b no. 46067).
    1. In the spring of 1787, delegates from the thirteen states met in Philadelphia intending to draft a constitution to replace the Articles of Confederation. On August 31, proposed parts of the Constitution which had not yet been acted upon were referred to a committee composed of one member from each state. Among these parts were the propositions to give Congress the power to grant patents for inventions.
    2. A month later, the committee recommended, among other things, that Congress should have the power "to promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries." The patent clause was agreed to without a dissenting vote.
    3. Although the Constitution then stated that Congress had the power to grant patents and copyrights, none were granted to petitioners during the first session of Congress. The first patent statute, “An Act to Promote the Progress of Useful Arts,”  was not passed until April 5, 1790, during the second session of the first Congress.
  2. Confederate States of America, Patent Office. Rules and Directions for Proceedings in the Confederate States Patent Office, 1861. Rare Book T223.5.K6 A4 1861. Also available online via Hathi Trust.
    1. One of the fundamental interests and obligations of governments is the protection and promotion of its citizen's intellectual product. Just as a patent statute had been among the first order of business for the first congress of the United States of America, the Confederate States of American published the rules of their patent office in May 1861, just three months after the formation of government.
  3. Amos Kendall. Morse’s Patent. Full Exposure of Dr. Chas. T. Jackson’s Pretensions to the Invention of the American Electro-Magnetic Telegraph, 1852. Alumni K331mo. Also available online via Hathi Trust.


Case 2. Dartmouth and Inventors

  1. Daniel Webster. Speech of the Hon. Daniel Webster in the great India Rubber Suit…Charles Goodyear Being Plaintiff and Horace H. Day Defendant, 1852. Webster KF3159.G6 W42 1852 
    1. Charles Goodyear got his first patent (#3,633,  Improvements in India-Rubber Fabrics) in 1844. By 1852 he had become wealthy enough to pay Daniel Webster, Dartmouth Class of 1801,  $15,000 to help him win "The Great India Rubber Suit", one of 32 cases involving infringement of his patent. This was the highest legal fee paid in America to that  time.
  2. Meg McLean. “Daniel Webster in the Great India Rubber Suit.”
  3. Charles H. Dudley. Design patent No. 87566 issued to Charles H. Dudley of Hanover for the head of a cane, 1932. DC Hist GT2220 .U5 


Case 3. Local Inventors and Patents

Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford, was born in Woburn, Massachusetts, in 1753 Benjamin Thompson married young and well, but as a loyalist, and a spy, during the American Revolution, was forced to leave America for England at the age of 22.  His political career in Europe, while successful, continued to be marked with the same intrigues as his dealings in America.  However, his real work was that of a scientist. His  investigation into the nature of heat led to many inventions still in use today, including the Rumford fireplace, the double boiler, several coffee pots, and the kitchen range. Not a single Rumford invention carried a patent:

"I desire only that the whole world should profit by it, without preventing others from using it with equal freedom."


Benjamin and John Tyler, residents of West Lebanon, held numerous patents for water wheels and water turbines. In 1855, John Tyler invented and obtained a patent for the “iron Tyler turbine water wheel,’ the first iron water wheel ever made.  He received 9 patents for improvement of the wheel which came into use on a national scale. Shown here are Benjamin Tyler's 1799 patent, signed by President Thomas Jefferson, and John Tyler's 1865 patent and drawing for an improved water wheel.

  1. John Tyler. Patent for an improvement in turbine water wheels, 1866. Possibly NH C63 1874


Thomas Green Fessenden graduated from Dartmouth in 1796. He studied law in Vermont with Nathaniel Chipman, occupying his leisure in writing humorous poems. He went to England in 1801, as agent for a new hydraulic machine, which proved a failure, and while in London he met Benjamin Douglas Perkins, son of Elisha Perkins, holder of the first U.S. medical patent, for metallic tractors.  Fessenden wrote a poem entitled "Terrible Tractoration," satirizing those who opposed the use of  Perkins tractors. Shown here are Fessenden's patent for a device to boil water and his 1810 essay on patent law.

  1. Thomas Green Fessenden. Patent Lamp Tea-Kettle, Boiler, etc. to Be Used with Oil or Alcohol, 1829. Alumni F42pa
  2. Thomas Green Fessenden. Patent for a lamp apparatus for heating & boiling water and other economical purposes, signed by President John Quincy Adams, 1827. Manuscript f827131
  3. MS 001340 also contains Fessenden materials.


Samuel Morey was born in Hebron, Connecticut in 1762.  At about the same time that Eleazar Wheelock was moving his family and his school to Hanover, the Morey family made a similar move, settling in Orford.  Samuel showed great mechanical and scientific ability as a youth.  His first patent, for a steam-operated spit, was granted in 1793.

He experimented with steam power as a means of propelling ships, exhibiting a stern paddlewheel boat on the Hudson River.  According to Morey, Chancellor Livingston offered him a considerable amount of money if he could increase the speed of the boat.  This he did by building a boat in Bordentown, New Jersey, with side paddlewheels, which he exhibited on the Delaware River.  Unfortunately, none of Morey's patents specifically mention the side paddlewheels. Robert Fulton's subsequent patent cited side paddlewheels as his own invention and claimed them for his own exclusive use. Morey later claimed that Fulton had stolen many of his ideas.

In 1826 Morey received one of the first American patents for an internal combustion engine.

Morey spent much of his life in Orford. His boat, "Aunt Sally," sailed around Fairlee Pond (now named Lake Morey) powered by a vapor engine.  He eventually moved across the Connecticut River to Fairlee, Vermont, where he died in 1843, a somewhat frustrated and embittered man whose seminal inventions never got their due recognition.

We have a Samuel Morey collection (MS-150), which contains these patents and other materials relating to Samuel Morey's life.

  1. Samuel Morey. Patent for a device for turning a spit, signed by President George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State, Philadelphia, 1793.
  2. Samuel Morey. Patent for a gas or vapour engine, signed by President John Quincy Adams, 1826.
  3. Samuel Morey. Patent for a steam engine, signed by President James Madison, 1815.
  4. Samuel Morey. Patent for a mode of shooting with steam & gas, signed by President John Quincy Adams, 1819.
  5. Samuel Morey. Patent for a mode of decompressing and recompressing water in combustion with spirit of turpentine, signed by President Andrew Jackson, 1833.
  6. Samuel Morey. Patent for a method of burning water, called the American Water-burner, signed by John Quincy Adams, 1817.
  7. Samuel Morey. Patent for obtaining a force or power from water, with the assistance of steam, signed by President John Adams, 1800.
  8. Gabriel Farrell. Capt. Samuel Morey Who Built a Steamboat Fourteen Years Before Fulton, 1915. Alumni F247c. Also available online via Hathi Trust.


Engineer, inventor and explorer, Stephen Harriman Long was a graduate of Dartmouth College, Class of 1809.  In 1819, he was appointed by President James Madison to lead an expedition to find the sources of the Platte, Arkansas and Red Rivers, during which he climbed the Rocky Mountains, including the peak now named after him, Long's Peak.  After this expedition, he helped to survey and build the Baltimore and Ohio railroad.  He received his first patent for a steam locomotive in 1826.

  1. Stephen Harriman Long. Specification of certain improvements in the Locomotive Engine and the Mode of Transferring carriages from One Level to Another in Their Passage Upon Rail-ways, 1826. Alumni L853s