It was #OnThisDay, May 22, 1849, Abraham Lincoln received a patent for a device he invented which was inspired by personal experience.
Abraham Lincoln said there were three things which brought about the greatest advances in human civilization; the invention of the printing press, the discovery of America, and the American patent system.
The Constitution provides for patent laws in Article 1, Section 8, which reads,
“Congress shall have 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…”
Honest Abe took advantage of this provision on this day, May 22, 1849, when he received Patent No. 6469 for a device which lifts boats over shoals and obstructions in a river.
Lincoln loved tinkering with machinery. One of his law partners, William H. Herndon, says Lincoln “evinced a decided bent toward machinery or mechanical appliances, a trait he doubtless inherited from his father who was himself something of a mechanic and therefore skilled in the use of tools.”
Lincoln’s invention was a product of personal experience. In 1848, while on his way home from a session in Congress, his boat was stranded on a sandbar. Herndon says of the incident:
“The captain ordered the hands to collect all the loose planks, empty barrels and boxes and force them under the sides of the boat. These empty casks were used to buoy it up. After forcing enough of them under the vessel she lifted gradually and at last swung clear of the opposing sand bar… Lincoln had watched this operation very intently. It no doubt carried him back to the days of his navigation on the turbulent Sangamon…Continual thinking on the subject of lifting vessels over sand bars and other obstructions in the water suggested to him the idea of inventing an apparatus for this purpose.”
This experience inspired Lincoln to come up with a machine “For Buoying Vessels Over Shoals…to enable them to pass over bars, or through shallow water, without discharging their cargoes…”
The invention was never manufactured, but it made Abraham Lincoln the only U.S. President to hold a patent.