Some friends were over yesterday for a small party. One of them fairly recently became a contractor for the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), and another asked him what the first patent was. The one friend had no idea, but it got me curious.
So a short search today yielded this patent. The patent itself isn't really all that interesting (except, perhaps, to historians of farm machinery (at least, I think that's what it applies to)), but there is a small curiosity about the inventor himself (J Ruggles, who, I presume, is not John Ruggles), and more interest in the year of issue, 1836.
This would imply, at least, that despite the Constitutional support for patents, that there were none issued for almost fifty years. So how necessary is the incentive of that 20-year government-granted monopoly?
Update: I apparently searched a bit too quickly. I missed that there was more than one series of numbers. The pre-1836 ones are numbered X000001-???. The first one was issued in 1790, and went to Samuel Hopkins for a process involving potash and pearl ash (?). Interestingly, signed by George Washington himself. I wonder what the last patent signed by the President was.