1856 - Inventions and improvements

The economic and political consequences of technological advances can be enormous. For example, at the beginning of the American republic, the idea was entertained that slavery would die out for want of utility - even in the South. Then the cotton gin was invented. Ironically, in radically reducing the amount of labor needed to process cotton, it thereby enormously increased the amount of labor desired to pick cotton. Slavery would not peacefully evaporate in the South and the new American nation would only resolve the question of its destiny with an enormously destructive war.

The Great Exhibition (of the Works of Industry of all Nations) held in London's Crystal Palace five years before 1856 was a seminal world's fair which exhibited much of the leading technology of its day. An online essay on its American contributions is found here.

In the course of 1856, the US Patent Office issued 2,520 patents of all types.


There were TWENTY-EIGHT patents - over 1% of the total - related to "Crop threshing or separating", such as the one immediately below. Note that the inventor, although originally from the "old North," Pennsylvania, now resided in the "new West", the recently admitted state of California. Also note he assigns the rights for the patent to someone from the "old West", Illinois, where he himself had also previously resided. The age of the author is not recorded, but perhaps he is someone who took the advice to Go West, young man!






But there were only SEVEN patents related to "Photography", such as one immediately below. Notice that the patent was issued only 5 days after the dramatic physical assault of US Senator Charles Sumner by US House member Preston Brooks, and that ironically, the two inventing partners came from the North (Ohio) and the South (Tennessee).


There was only ONE lonely patent related to "Electricity: magnetically operated switches, magnets, and electromagnets", the one immediately below. Note that the inventor of this bit of improved communications technology was from New Jersey, which would later be home to all the principal facilities of Bell Laboratories. This research arm of the mighty American Telephone and Telegraph company would be the commercial progeny of an immigrant Boston University professor, now a nine-year-old boy in Scotland, who would be issued a critical US Patent some two decades hence.




Postscript: The sketch nine-year-old Alexander Graham Bell would make as an adult twenty years hence.