A History of Its Industries, Railroads and Inventions



Saratoga County's Earliest Inventions

Ballston Spa Life


The United States Patent Commission was created on April 10, 1790 to establish a formal method for submitting and indexing patents. Its first three members were Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of War Henry Knox, and Attorney General Edmund Randolph. As only three people made up the early patent office, the first applications were not closely examined. An inventor simply submitted a written description, a working model, and a $30 fee (equivalent to about $1,000 today). 

For over 25 years, the patents were stored in a building known as Blodgett’s Hotel, also the site of the General Post Office. In the early morning of December 15, 1836, ashes from a woodstove caught fire and burned down the entire building. All 10,000 of the patents and models were destroyed.           

Although indexes from private collections have allowed the Patent Office to reconstruct a listing of nearly all of the lost patents, most of the actual copies were lost forever. Congress acted to attempt to restore the patents from private collections and the inventors themselves, but only about 3,000 were recovered. These were given an “X” designation to distinguish them from patents issued after 1836, and are commonly called the “X-patents.”  

The Great Fire of 1836 was devastating to the early patent record of Saratoga County. Of the 54 X-patents issued, 34 were destroyed by the fire, including 22 out of the first 25. Four additional patents contain the drawings only, as the text has been lost, while in two others the drawings have been lost.  

The county’s first patent was one of those that could not be replaced, issued on April 2, 1810 to Jonathan Minor of Saratoga Springs for a water wheel. Others never replaced include Daniel Newell’s “Machine for Shaving and Dressing Shingles” (Saratoga, 7/26/1810), John Bryan’s “Manufacturing Hats” (Saratoga, 8/26/1815), and Eliakim Cory’s “Stove” (Milton, 5/30/1816). 

The Town of Waterford possesses the most X-patents with nineteen, while Saratoga Springs comes in second with ten. Surprisingly, the Town of Galway is third with nine patents, all of which were submitted before 1830. None of Galway’s patents were replaced after the Patent Office fire.  

The Town of Milton had four X-patents, of which one survived – Oliver Davidson’s “Door Spring,” issued from Ballston Spa on March 30, 1835.  

Jedidiah Beckwith’s machine for boring timber is the earliest Saratoga County patent that survives completely intact. Beckwith’s invention was submitted in Saratoga Springs and accepted on December 21, 1830. The book Repertory of Patent Inventions describes the tool: “A frame is made having two uprights, like those of a standing press. A cylindrical vertical shaft fits and turns freely in holes at the top and bottom of the sliding frame; the augers or bits, with which the boring is to be performed, are adapted to the lower end of the shaft. By means of a handle, motion is given to the vertical wheel.”  

Beckwith also patented a rotary pump on April 16, 1831 and a double-acting metallic pump on December 27, 1833, making him the county’s most prolific early inventor. He must have provided the Patent Office with copies of his patents after the fire, since all three survive in their entirety. 


Information for this article was taken from Starr’s book “Invented in Saratoga County.”  He recently released the book “The Paper Bag King: A Biography of George West.” Both of these titles and several others are available at the Brookside Museum in Ballston Spa. For more information, visit www.ballstonhistory.com. Starr is also the Treasurer of the Board of Directors at Brookside.


[Articles]         [Home]