Thomas Jefferson Papers
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John Stevens to the Patent Board, [10 May 1791]

John Stevens to the Patent Board

[10 May 1791]. He enumerates “improvements respecting the generation of steam and the application thereof to different purposes,” including two types of boilers, an improvement of Savery’s machine for raising water, a method of using steam to work a “forcing pump” to supply a boiler with water, and new techniques for raising water and working bellows using steam-driven pistons which he has invented and for which he has requested patents in a petition addressed to the board.

Dft (NjHi: Stevens Family Papers); 3 p.; fragmentary text, with conclusion supplied from Archibald D. Turnbull, John Stevens: An American Record (New York, 1928), 111; addressed: “To the Hon: Thomas Jefferson Esquire Secretary of State Henry Knox Esquire Secretary at War and Edmund Randolph Esquire attorney General Commissioners for granting Patents”; endorsed by Stevens: “Description of Improvements &c Letter to Mr. Jefferson.”

On 8 Feb. 1790 the House of Representatives had read a petition from Stevens asking Congress for a patent for “an improvement on the steam engine, which he has invented, by a new mode of generating steam” (JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, Washington, D.C., Gales & Seaton, 1826, 9 vols. description ends , i, 154). After the Patent Board was established Stevens sought a patent from that body. He wrote Henry Remsen, the board’s clerk, from Hoboken on 20 Apr. 1791, stating that he was constructing a steam engine to propel a boat and therefore wished to know the result of his application for a patent (NjHi: Stevens Family Papers). The present list of his inventions was elicited by Remsen’s response of 4 May 1791, explaining that the board had abandoned its efforts to decide between the conflicting claims of James Rumsey and John Fitch for a steamboat patent and “at a late meeting agreed to grant patents to them-and to all claimants of steam patents-according to their respective specifications,” enclosing an incomplete patent he had drafted based on Stevens’s specification, noting that the specification was silent regarding some of his claims, and requesting a “description of your several improvements” (Turnbull, Stevens, 109–10). Stevens duly received three patents dated 26 Aug. 1791 for these inventions (List of Patents description begins A List of Patents granted by the United States from April 10, 1790, to December 31, 1836, Washington, D.C., 1872 description ends , 5; Tobias Lear to TJ, with List of Patents, 30 Aug. 1791, printed below; patent for two types of steam boiler and a method of propelling boats using steam power, Tr in NjHoS, with George Washington as signatory, TJ as countersignatory, and certification by Edmund Randolph, consisting of later transcription of copy certified 10 May 1814 by James Monroe).

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