Thomas Jefferson and the First Patent in the US

jefferdson patent act

Thomas Jefferson was an American Founding Father, a spokesman for democracy, the author of The Declaration of Independence, Secretary of State, and the third president of the United States. He created the first U.S. Patent Act in 1793, inventions still lead the exact structure of awarding patents to this day. As a key figure in U.S. history, he’s often referred to as the father of invention for all the work he put in to ensure everyone has equal rights to a patent. He was the one to present the 1st patent.

Patent Act

The patent definition, US history presents, is an exclusive right issued towards an invention. It can be for a product or a process that will create a new way of doing something. 

The 1793 Patent Act paved a new way in US patent history. Jefferson wanted to create a way to promote science and useful arts and protect the rights of inventors. The United States 1793 Act stated, “The congress will have the power to promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for a limited time to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.” This meant inventors could protect their findings from being stolen or used by another person, allowing them time to focus and work on their creations. Quite a similar philosophy to the ones applied by various companies in the modern world, like any trusted paper writing service providing professional essays writing help online. There, where writers offer top-quality help and produce documents that are also protected from being plagiarized.

Thomas Jefferson Patents: First American Patent

After the creation of America’s Patent Act in 1793, it wasn’t long until patents were awarded to those that met all of the rules and guidelines of the new act. Maybe not the first US patent, but one of the first patents issued went to Eli Whitney in November 1793.

Whitney wanted to create a machine for cleaning cotton seeds from their fibers, so US patent number 1 was awarded. Jefferson approved the patent, and Whitney created the cotton gin. As a resident of New York, Eli Whitney came up with the idea while visiting a friend in the South. His friend explained his cotton issue, and Whitney devised a method for the cotton cleaning process much easier. 

After the approval of Whitney’s patent, Jefferson could grant a further 114 patents during his two years as Secretary of State.

The invention of Thomas Jefferson

Not only did Thomas Jefferson award patents, but he was also an inventor himself. Inventions by Thomas Jefferson included: 

  • The Revolving Book Stand
  • Dumbwaiters 
  • The Great Clock 
  • The Wheel Cipher 
  • The Polygraph
  • The Macaroni Machine
  • The Pedometer 

Thomas Jefferson inventions were the revolving bookstand so that a person could look at more than one book at a time. You could hold up to five books on an adjustable stand and swivel until you had the correct book in front of you. 

Another Thomas Jefferson invention was the dumbwaiter, a device used to serve food and drink between floors. Servants could use them to easily transport food in larger houses, and after use, you could just put your plates back on the dumbwaiter so they could be taken back down to the kitchens. 

The father of invention also created the Great Wall Clock. It’s a seven-day clock with a second exterior facing the east side of the house. With only an hour hand, the clock is powered by weights that will gong to indicate the days of the week. 

He also created the Wheel Cipher, which helped to encode messages. It was a small, circular device that could be rearranged in different orders to create a key for secret messages. Jefferson did, however, abandon the Wheel Cipher in 1802, but it would have made a great device for the government when needing private conversations.  

In 1804, Jefferson created the polygraph. Its original inventor was John Hawkins, who was an Englishman, but he gave the patent to Charles Willson Peale, who was one of Jefferson’s clients. They worked together to develop the polygraph, which is still a key machine used in modern times. 

One of Jefferson’s most popular inventions was the Macaroni Machine. This machine sped up the entire process of making pasta and is still a popular tool to this day. 

Another of Thomas Jefferson’s inventions that are used widely today and now on nearly every smartphone is the pedometer. Yes, Thomas Jefferson invented this well-known tool. One of the popular inventions of Thomas Jefferson was the device used to count how many steps you’ve taken in a day. While he wasn’t the first person to create a pedometer from scratch, he did work on theories from others in the past to create a more up-to-date and wearable pedometer. 

History Patent

The first patent issued in Florence in 1421 to Filippo Brunelleschi was for a device to carry heavy stones along the river Arno. 

The history of patents in the US started with the first one being awarded in 1790, only three years before the Patent Act was introduced. It was issued to Samuel Hopkins for the process of making potash which was needed to help with fertilization. 

Once the patent act had been finalized, the review of patents became much more regimented. In 1802, Secretary of State James Madison created a separate office for handling patents, and in 1836, the act was rewritten to help make a compromise between Jefferson’s rules and an easier acceptance of patents. 

The U.S. Patent Act of 1793 allowed inventors to focus on their inventions and writing. It gave them time to work on their findings, eventually creating new inventions that helped to pave the way in U.S. history and create new machinery that helped to make life easier. Many inventions created by Thomas Jefferson himself are still used to this day, including the Macaroni Machine, the Polygraph, and the Pedometer. 


English, T. (2021, February 14). 7 Things Invented or Popularized by Thomas Jefferson | IE. Interesting Engineering.

Patents. (n.d-a). Monticello. 

Patents. (n.d.-b). 

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2023, April 27). Cotton Gin | Definition, Inventor, 

Impact, & Facts. Encyclopedia Britannica. 

The White House. (2022, December 23). Thomas Jefferson | The White House.  

Thomas Jefferson – iphalloffame. (n.d). 

Varsity Tutors. (n.d). Father of Invention. 

Wilson Gunn | 150 years – patents. (n.d). 

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Marc Gray is the founder of the Odyssey College Prep program. As the director of education, he helps parents and students simplify college planning. His enterprise aims to give parents who are overwhelmed by the endless decisions of college planning a stress-free and comprehensive solution. Marc also helps students discover and enhance their talents through advanced aptitude testing, ensuring that they can develop them into practical skills to use while building their dream careers.