The style of bed and platen printing press in this patent model inspired Issac Adams’ design of the later Adams Power Press, which was praised by early 19th century printers for its production of quality book work.
Printing Press, 1830: Issac Adams, (Unnumbered Patent) The style of bed and platen printing press in this patent model inspired Issac Adams’ design of the later Adams Power Press, which was praised by early 19th century printers for its production of quality book work.Courtesy Smithsonian National Museum of American History
The style of bed and platen printing press in this patent model inspired Issac Adams’ design of the later Adams Power Press, which was praised by early 19th century printers for its production of quality book work.
Samuel F. B. Morse converted an artist’s canvas stretcher into a telegraph receiver that recorded a message as a wavy line on a strip of paper. His telegraph transmitter sent electric pulses representing letter and numbers that activated an electromagnet on the receiver.
Violin, 1852: William S. Mount, (Patent No. 8981). William S. Mount proposed creating violins with concave or hollow backs. This patent model represented a design innovation that would minimize the strain on the violin soundboard and avoid interference with the “sonorous and vibrating qualities” of the instrument.
Sewing Machine, 1873: Helen Blanchard, (Patent No. 141987) This patent model for an improvement in sewing machines introduced the buttonhole stitch. Blanchard received some 28 patents, many having to do with sewing. She is best remembered for another overstitch sewing invention, the “zigzag.”
Camera Shutter, 1879: Eadweard Muybridge, (Patent No. 212865) This “Method and Apparatus for Photographing Objects in Motion” was adapted to photographic equipment. As demonstrated with this patent model, it could produce images of subjects in rapid motion. It was used by Eadweard Muybridge in his celebrated animal locomotion photography.
Incandescent Lamp, 1881: Thomas Edison (Patent No. 239373) Thomas Edison submitted this model to patent a variation on his newly invented light bulb. Although he never put this design into production, this lamp could be disassembled to replace a burned-out filament.
Stephanie Kwolek (Patent Nos. 3819587 and RE30352): High-Strength Fiber, 1965 Stephanie Kwolek’s 1965 discovery at DuPont of strong polymer fibers resulted in DuPont Kevlar, best known for its use in bullet-resistant body armor and used in myriad other applications.
Steve Jobs (Patent No. 7166791) & Steve Wozniak (Patent No. 4136359): Apple I Computer, 1976. In 1976 the first form of computer designed by Stephen Wozniak and sold by Wozniak in conjunction with Steve Jobs was sold, and became a leader in personal computing. Originally marketed to hobbyists only primarily as a fully assembled circuit board; purchasers had to add their own case and monitor in order to create a working computer.
Artificial Heart, 1977: Robert Jarvik, M.D., Prototype. This electrohydraulic artificial heart is a prototype for what became the Jarvik-7 Total Artificial Heart, which was first implanted into a human in December 1982 at the University of Utah Medical Center. The two sides of the device are connected with Velcro.
Printing Press, 1830: Issac Adams, (Unnumbered Patent) The style of bed and platen printing press in this patent model
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Courtesy Smithsonian National Museum of American History
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See Original Models of the Apple I and Other Iconic American Inventions

It was 225 years ago Friday that Samuel Hopkins of Philadelphia was granted a U.S. patent for his new method of making potash, a salt useful for fertilizer. The patent was signed by George Washington, who had established the patent system mere months earlier.

Hopkins' patent was the first such document in the nation's history, but it was far from the last. As can be clearly seen by the documents and objects on show at Inventing in America—an exhibit that opened earlier this month at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, in collaboration with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and will be on view through 2020—the tradition of ingenuity in the United States has been a fruitful one. And that makes sense: as John Gray, the museum's director, said in a statement, the U.S. itself was a new invention when it was founded.

It used to be required that a patent application come with a model of the idea, and now the museum has thousands of those models, along with prototypes and trademark examples. From the printing presses and typewriters of the 19th century, to DuPont Kevlar—celebrating its 50th birthday this year—and the Apple computer, here are some examples to get the inspiration going for the next big invention. (Sorry, a thinking cap isn't one of them.)

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