The Patent Fire of 1836
One of the most important legacies of the Patent Act of 1836 was its creation of the first USA Patent Office. The creation of a new administration within the Department of State allowed for the patent application and registration procedures to the sole responsibility of an organization that was created for specialized task of overlooking every aspect of patents. Previously, the responsibility feel on important positions, such as the Secretary of State, and Secretary of War, which would prove to be too much of a demand on their already crucial responsibilities and duties.
The Patent Office and the instating of new positions and titles within the organization would delegate the tasks of patent registrations solely to one entity or faction. The first Patent Office Commissioner was Henry Leavitt Ellsworth. Once the Patent Act of 1836 managed to establish the new patent organization, once of the first things the Commissioner set out to do was provide for a base of operations for the new Patent Office. Construction of what was deemed as a fire-proof building began the same year, while the Patent Office would share its first building with the General Post Office and Washington City Post Office.
Within this shared building, over ten thousand patent records were housed and stored, along with thousands of patent models all located on the first three floors of the structure. The shared building was known as Blodgett’s Hotel, and provided sufficient enough facilities for the newly implemented Patent Office to start its operations. The Blodgett’s Hotel was situated within walking distance a fire house, which was not a mere coincidence. What was then considered at the USA Patent Office, a threat of fire due to acts of war put the organization in jeopardy in 1814.
Dr. William Thornton managed to convince members of the British armed forces to leave the building intact. After all was said and done, the Patent Office was the only governmental building still standing. Therefore, such threat provided for the temporary location of the Patent Office to be located in such close proximity to a fire house. After all, all the records of patents and patent drafting were all done on paper.
The United States Congress decided to provide for the fire house about sixteen years before the Patent Office moved to this location, but the other two organizations situated in the building would also benefit from a fire house being near by. It was no coincidence that the Patent Office chose this location, for the fire house provided a sense of security from an unfortunate fire incident.
However, common sense would not prove enough in preventing a catastrophic occurrence that would render the Patent Office in shambles. Early in the morning on December 15th, 1836, a fire would break out that would eventually engulf and destroy all of the patent records, models, and plans housed and stored at the Blodgett’s Hotel building. A messenger who was housed in the building was the first to notice the fire, and did the best to round up others inside to enter the Patent Office section of the building. After various attempts to save the patent records, all attempts were in vain.
Logic would serve to believe that the fire station located so nearby would be able to competently battle the flames, and if not save the USA Patent Office, at least provide for time to save the patent records. However, because the fire station was constructed sixteen years prior, and was rarely used, all the equipment for fail to properly work. Volunteer fire fighters would resort to using buckets to put out the flames, which would prove to be an exercise in futility.
It took less than twenty minutes for the fire to completely consume the Blodgett’s Hotel building, along with it the USA Patent Office and all patent drafting records. Out the thousands of records stored in the USA Patent Office, less than 3,000 were managed to be restored through private files and models provided by the original patent holders. All others had to be canceled. Even though the first USA Patent Office ended in disaster, its legacy continues, for it would eventually lead to the creation of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, which is the faction and organization that handles all patent matters in the U.S. today.