From: email@example.com (William Jacobs)
Subject: Patent office UL
Date: 25 Jun 1993 00:05:48 GMT
At AFU West VI Bob O'Bob asked about the legend that an official of the U.S.
Patent Office had resigned believing that everything had been invented.
Another AFU'er (whom I don't recall) and I got into a match of dueling
references. Here's mine: Skeptical Inquirer Vol. 13 Spring 1989.
A Patently False Patent Myth by Samuel Sass
"For more than a century there has periodically appeared in print the story
about an official of the U.S. Patent Office who resigned his post because he
believed that all possible inventions had already been invented. Some years
ago, before I retired as librarian of a General Electric Company division, I
was asked by a skeptical scientist to find out what there was to this
recurring tale. My research proved to be easier than I had expected. I found
that this matter had been investigated as a project of the D.C. Historical
Records Survey under the Works Projects Administration. The investigator, Dr.
Eber Jeffery, published his findings in the July 1940 Journal of the Patent
Jeffery found no evidence that any official or employee of the U.S. Patent
Office had ever resigned because he thought there was nothing left to invent.
However, Jeffery may have found a clue to the origin of the myth. In his 1843
report to Congress, the then commissioner of the Patent Office, Henry L.
Ellsworth, included the following comment: "The advancement of the arts, from
year to year, taxes our credulity and seems to presage the arrival of that
period when human improvement must end." As Jeffery shows, it's evident from
the rest of that report that Commissioner Ellsworth was simply using a bit of
rhetorical flourish to emphasize that the number of patents was growing at a
great rate. Far from considering inventions at an end, he outlined areas in
which he expected patent activity to increase, and it is clear that he was
making plans for the future."
Sass mentions another atribution of the quote to Commissioner of the U.S.
Patent Office Charles H. Duell, who didn't say it either.
Bill "All threads have already been created. There is nothing new to post"
William Jacobs | "'Scuse me while I do the bugaloo!"
Astronomy Dept., San Diego State | --James Brown
firstname.lastname@example.org | Disclaimer: I prefer smooth peanut butter
Exclaimer: My god! What IS that?!| to crunchy.