Thursday April 7, 2005  	Previous | Next
Dear Yahoo!:
Is it true that a former president wanted to close the patent office,
claiming everything had already been invented?
Crownsville, Maryland
Dear Scott:
Although we find the statement patently absurd, it sure does pop up
everywhere. But it appears to be yet another legend.

The story that's most often told is that in 1899 the head of the U.S.
Patent Office sent his resignation to President McKinley urging the
closing of the office because "everything that could be invented has
been invented." It's been told and retold so often that even President
Reagan used it in a speech.

The "quote" is often attributed to Charles H. Duell, who was
Commissioner of Patents in 1899. However, according to The Great Idea
Finder, Duell was far from pessimistic about the future of new
inventions and patents. He even encouraged Congress to improve the
patent system.

The Skeptical Inquirer agrees, adding information on another Patent
Office commissioner whose statements may have been taken out of context.
In a 1843 letter to Congress, Henry L. Ellsworth emphasized the rapid
growth in the number of patents and stated that he expected patent
activity to increase. Somehow, his statements may have been

So why is the statement so widely quoted, er, misquoted? Maybe because
it illustrates so well the inaccuracy of predictions or the limitations
of the imagination. And that could also be said of those who use it.

Brett VanBenschoten
Library Associate
California Hospital Medical Center Library
w:213-742-5872 f:213-765-4046
[log in to unmask]

Librarians don't know everything, they just know how to find out.
-----Original Message-----
From: Medical Libraries Discussion List [mailto:[log in to unmask]]
On Behalf Of Helen Seaton
Sent: Friday, May 09, 2008 11:33 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Need leadership quotes - those who made famously poor

I can't remember the name of the person who said it but I remember
reading that someone (probably a politician) wanted to close the U.S.
Patent Office at about the time of the Civil War because he didn't think
there could possibly be anything left to invent.  Maybe you could find
the person's name by searching for patent office.