Thomas Jefferson Papers

Oliver Evans to Thomas Jefferson, 7 January 1814

From Oliver Evans

Washington City Jany 7th 1814


I have this day perused your learned discussion of my Claims to exclusive right to the use of Elevators Conveyors & Hopperboys &C, In a letter dated Monticello, August 13th 1813. But I have not the Satisfaction of knowing who it was directed to, for in the publication of it the gentleman has concealed his name, making use of yours to press me down in the public estimation. If I knew whose letter you have answered I would inform him that it appears evident that he has missrepresented the case to your honour, by giving you the Idea that I have obtained a grant of exclusive right for useing Elevators Conveyors Hopperboys & drills, I beg leave to assure, you that I have no Such grant, nor do I Claim any Such right. My Patent is for my improvement in the process of the manufacture of flour and meal, by the application of certain principles to produce a new and very great and useful result, by means of an improved Elevator, an improved Hopperboy, &c which the law requires of me to describe a Set of Machinery that will carry my principles into operation, to secure to me the improvement without being confined to the Machinery discribed, but free to use any machinery that is known and free to the public. It is well that I knew better than to take a patent for Machines, for my invention or discovery was completed, and then machines sought after to put it in operation. I had a common right to chose and use the best I could find for my purpose, either Chain pump, Chain of Buckets, Archimides pump, Screw or1 bellows or Hopperboy, if there had been Such a machine. If I had found them all perfect and Suitable for my purposes but applied to other uses, I had a right to take them, and combine them, to produce the great result that I had conceived, making an improvement of the utmost importance in the Art of manufacturing flour and meal, for which the patent law Said I was entitled to a patent. But so it was that neither of the Machines mentioned were to be found in a State, that would answer my purpose, and I had at great expense of Study time and labour, to improve invent,2 arange, and combine them, Therefore the act for my relief directs a patent to be granted me, first to secure to me the exclusive right to my improvement in the art of manufacturing flour and meal, Secondly the exclusive right to my improved machines, for all other purposes to which they will apply in consequence of my improvement of them, leaving the Machines in their original State or as they were before known3 and used, free to all as usual

I have reason to beleive that the gentleman who required your opinion in the case, knew well all that I have Stated, And it was his duty when approaching So elevated and dignifyed a character to have Stated the whole truth, more especially if he intended to draw forth an Opinion, to be published with intent to influence the public mind, in a case So important as private and public right, he Should also have Sent you a true report of the case tryed in the Circuit court for the destrict of Maryland, which I now Send accompanying this, also a copy of my Memorial now before Congress, that you may be informed of my persuits, and the persecutions and difficulties I have to encountre, which I beg you will be pleased to read. And as your letter printed in a pamphlet conected with a great number of affidavits memorials observations &c making 50 octavo pages, is now before congress, All of which I could better answer before a Court of Justice. I am constrained to beg of you to condescend to answer this my Statemint, as soon as your convenience and leisure will permit, with your consent, that I Shall publish both this letter and your answer, for I will be forced to say something in my defence I am

Honble Sir with great Resp[ect] your Obedient Humble Ser

Oliver Evans

RC (DLC); torn at seal; dateline at foot of text; addressed: “The Honble Thomas Jefferson Monticello Virginia”; franked; postmarked Washington, 9 Jan.; endorsed by TJ as received 14 Jan. 1814 and so recorded in SJL.

Oliver Evans (1755–1819), inventor, engineer, and author, was apprenticed to a wheelwright in his native Delaware. By 1774 he became engrossed in designing steam engines and steam-powered land carriages. Ridiculed for his ideas, Evans turned to other labor-saving projects. About 1778 he built a machine to produce textile cards, and in the 1780s he designed improvements for the manufacturing of flour and meal, for which he received state patents in the 1780s and a federal patent in 1790. Two years later Evans moved to Philadelphia, where he established mercantile and milling enterprises and began to prosper. He expended considerable energy and employed a network of family members and agents to defend his patent rights and licenses from infringement. Evans published a popular handbook, The Young Mill-Wright & Miller’s Guide (Philadelphia, 1795, and later editions; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends no. 1180), and followed it a decade later with a work entitled The Abortion of the Young Steam Engineer’s Guide (Philadelphia, 1805). After 1800 he focused increasingly on the construction of high-pressure steam engines for waterworks, mills, and steamboats. In 1804 Evans built an amphibious steam-powered dredge for cleaning docks. By 1806 he founded the Mars Works in Philadelphia, and about 1811 he helped his son George Evans establish the Pittsburgh Steam Engine Company. Prior to TJ’s retirement he and the elder Evans communicated sporadically yet cordially regarding patent rights and inventions, as well as mill materials and licensing. In response to the opposition of TJ and others to his broad claims of patent rights, Evans disseminated a number of essays on patent law, including an angry, unsigned pamphlet, A Trip made by a Small Man in a Wrestle with a Very Great Man. Answer to the Baltimore Millers’ Memorial, and Thomas Jefferson’s Letter (n.p., 1814). Evans died in New York City, leaving an estate valued in excess of $30,000 (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ; Bathe and Bathe, Oliver Evans description begins Greville Bathe and Dorothy Bathe, Oliver Evans: A Chronicle of Early American Engineering, 1935, repr. 1972 description ends ; List of Patents description begins A List of Patents granted by the United States from April 10, 1790, to December 31, 1836, 1872 description ends , 4, 39–40, 62, 97; PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 34 vols. description ends , 24:683–4; Isaac McPherson to TJ, 3, 28 Aug. 1813; TJ to McPherson, 13 Aug., 18 Sept. 1813; TJ to John Wharton, 10 July 1818; Philadelphia Poulson’s American Daily Advertiser, 19 Apr. 1819).

TJ’s letter of august 13th 1813 was addressed to Isaac McPherson, who concealed his name when he included this letter in a published memorial to Congress. The act for Evans’s relief is described at McPherson to TJ, 3 Aug. 1813. In the case tryed in the circuit court of maryland during its November 1812 term, Oliver Evans v. Samuel Robinson, all of Evans’s patent rights were confirmed. The enclosed report on the case has not been identified. In Evans’s view the verdict “demonstrated conclusively his right, as an inventor, to his patented improvements; depicted in severe and glowing colors the depravity and baseness of those who had combined to defraud him of the fruits of his ingenuity; and maintained his claims and pretensions beyond all controversy, and established his genius and merits on an exalted and triumphant eminence” (Evans v. Robinson and other items supplied by Evans and printed in Baltimore Weekly Register, Addenda, 3 [1813]: 1–16; The Federal Cases: comprising Cases Argued and Determined in the Circuit and District Courts of the United States [1894–97], 8:886–8 [case no. 4,571]). Other enclosure printed below.

1Preceding two words interlined.

2Word interlined.

3Manuscript: “know.”

Index Entries

  • An Act for the relief of Oliver Evans (1808) search
  • Archimedes; screw of search
  • Congress, U.S.; Memorial to Congress on Evans’ Patent search
  • Evans, Oliver; asserts patent rights search
  • Evans, Oliver; identified search
  • Evans, Oliver; letters from search
  • Evans, Oliver; machinery of patented search
  • Evans, Oliver; originality of machinery questioned search
  • Evans, Oliver; TJ’s opinion on patent rights of published search
  • Evans v. Robinson search
  • flour; machinery for manufacture of search
  • machines; O. Evans’s patent machinery search
  • Maryland; U.S. circuit court in search
  • McPherson, Isaac; and O. Evans’s patent machinery search
  • McPherson, Isaac; letter from TJ published search
  • Memorial to Congress on Evans’ Patent search
  • patents; of O. Evans search
  • Robinson, Samuel; and O. Evans’s patent machinery search
  • United States Circuit Court, Maryland District search