Thomas Jefferson Papers
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Petition of Henry Voigt to the Patent Board, [before 10 August 1791]

Petition of Henry Voigt to the Patent Board

[Before 10 Aug. 1791]. He requests a patent for his “easy method of propelling Boats and other Vessels through the water by the power of Horses or cattle, whereby their strength may be applied nearly as well as that of a man at an Oar, which of course will reduce the price of inland navigation nearly as much as the labour of Horses is cheaper than that of Men.”

Tr (DP: Scientific Library, Propulsion of Vessels, 1791–1810); 1 p.; undated; at head of text: “To the Honourable the Secretary of State, the Secretary at War, and the Attorney General”; with accompanying notation by Nicholas King that he copied it and the supporting documents described below in July 1811 from the originals in the Patent Office of the Department of State; and another notation in the margin by Robert Schuyler indicating that he had received these texts from the heirs of Robert Fulton in 1841.

In compliance with the 1790 patent law, on 10 Aug. 1791, in exchange for his patent, Voigt transmitted to the Secretary of State a specification for his boat propelled by” Horses or Cattle working cranks or wheels which Act on Paddles not before known or used” (Tr in DP: Scientific Library, Propulsion of Vessels, 1791–1810; subjoined to Tr of petition summarized above; conjoined with Trs of Voigt’s undated “Description of a Boat or Boats to be propelled by Horses or any Cattle” and two undated drawings of the invention; first drawing reproduced in Prager, Fitch description begins Frank D. Prager, ed., The Autobiography of John Fitch, Philadelphia, 1976 description ends , 201). Voigt’s patent for “Propelling boats by cattle” was dated 10 Aug. 1791 (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).

Voigt had been employed by John Fitch to help construct his steamboat, and later this year Fitch alleged that Voigt’s invention had in fact been his own idea (Prager, Fitch description begins Frank D. Prager, ed., The Autobiography of John Fitch, Philadelphia, 1976 description ends , 118, 120, 201, 203–4).

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