Ever since George Washington signed the first Bill into law establishing the U.S. patent system, the office of the presidency and the world of inventing have been forever entwined, either directly or indirectly. In this election year, InventHelp® is pleased to share these invention stories and how they relate to our United States presidents.

George Washington 1789-1797

Besides being credited as the "inventor" of our nation, George Washington played a roll in establishing the U.S. patent system. But why was he interested in inventing at all? Washington ran into a man named James Rumsey at an inn where both were staying. Rumsey showed Washington a model of his invention: a mechanical boat that could propel itself upstream by grappling on the bottom. Washington must have liked what he saw, because he wrote a letter of recommendation for Rumsey. Rumsey used Washington's certificate to obtain patents and support for his inventions from various state legislatures. But Rumsey's predicament required so much labor that it sparked Washington's interest in supporting inventors. In order to eliminate the need for inventors like Rumsey having to go from state to state to get patent protection for their idea, Washington pushed for the development of a constitution that could help establish a unified patent system for inventors. In 1790, President George Washington signed the Bill that laid the foundations of the American Patent System.

John Adams 1797-1801

President John AdamsWhen the constitution was first written, the presidential candidate who received the second most votes would win the position of vice president. While serving as Vice President under George Washington for eight years, John Adams called his position "the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived." For eight years Adams endured the hardship of not having his vice presidential voice heard before being elected president in 1797. However, things were even worse under Adams' presidency, when Thomas Jefferson became the vice president. Unlike Washington, Jefferson was from a different political party than Adams. There was so much tension between the two that in 1804 the twelfth amendment changed the constitution so the president and vice president could run on a single party "ticket."

Thomas Jefferson 1801-1809

U.S. President Thomas JeffersonIn addition to penning the Declaration of Independence, holding the office of President, and being a highly regarded founding father, Thomas Jefferson also came up with many inventions throughout his lifetime. Two of his more famous inventions were the "personal plow" and the "macaroni machine." An avid farmer, Jefferson decided to invent a plow that could dig two to three inches deeper than the standard wooden plow common at the time. Through his creation, Jefferson also helped prevent soil erosion, a major problem in many areas of Virginia. Along with his interest in farming, Jefferson enjoyed continental cooking. Taking delight in serving his guests food and drinks they could enjoy, he came up with a drawing of a macaroni machine that could give his guests and himself a way to enjoy a base food that has its start from curly shaped dough.

James Madison 1809-1817

President Madison shared his friend and mentor Thomas Jefferson's love for inventing. Just like Jefferson, Madison had some unusual yet interesting ideas. One of Madison's inventions was a walking stick with a microscope inside of it. It could be used to take a closer look at small organisms on the ground. One problem: the walking stick was short, only reaching to about the waist. At only 5 feet tall, looking through his walking stick may have been easy for Madison, but not for others such as Jefferson – who was eight inches taller.

James Monroe 1817-1825

James Monroe had the honor of being the first president to ride the steamboat. On May 11, 1819 Monroe traveled on a steamboat namedSavannah. Later that year, on May 22, the Savannah achieved another first by becoming the first ship powered by steam to make a transatlantic journey. Its route took it from Savannah, Georgia to Liverpool, England in 27 days. For this reason, many people in the United States actually celebrate National Maritime Day on May 22. While Monroe served as both Secretary of State for James Madison from 1811-1817 and as President from 1817-1825, significant advances in steamboats were made. President Monroe even had a steamboat named in his honor.

John Quincy Adams 1825-1829

John Quincy Adams holds the distinction of first president to be photographed, although not during his presidency. On April 13, 1843, a little less than five years before his death, Adams had his picture taken. It would be about six more years before a sitting president would be the subject of a photograph when James K. Polk had his picture taken in 1849. During that time, Henry Fox Talbot and Louis Daguerre invented two different processes for creating photographic images. Thirty-seven years later, George Eastman's first first half-tone photograph appeared in a New York City newspaper.

Andrew Jackson 1829-1837

President Andrew Jackson, 1829-1837On June 6, 1833, President Andrew Jackson stepped on a Baltimore and Ohio passenger coach – thus becoming the first president to ride a railroad train. President Jackson's historic ride took him twelve-miles from Relay to Mt. Claire Depot, MD. During this era, the railroad was just starting to be accepted. Before the civil war, the railway system expanded significantly and in 1869 it became possible to take a train from coast to coast. Innovations in the railroad industry made it possible for subsequent presidential candidates and administrations to move quickly and comfortably about the nation addressing crowds at all their stops. This was how the "whistle-stop tour" was born.

Martin Van Buren 1837-1840

On February 21, 1838, Samuel F. B. Morse presented his telegraph invention to President Martin Van Buren and his cabinet. People began to see what could be possible with this new invention. However, a couple of months later a bill to support a $30,000 telegraph line project failed in Congress. But Morse persevered. In 1840, Morse applied for a patent. Four years later, he sent the famous telegraph message "What hath God wrought" over a telegraph line constructed between Baltimore and Washington. The telegraph spread so rapidly that a year before Van Buren's death in 1862, the East and West Coast of the United States had become linked by telegraph.

John Tyler 1841-1845

At just thirty-two days, William Henry Harrison had the shortest presidency in United States history. When President Harrison passed away, it was time for Vice President Tyler to officially take over. When Tyler was notified of Harrison's passing – in effect learning he was President of the United States – he was on his knees playing marbles. It would be interesting to know how he took the news! Tyler's access to marbles was probably limited to the wealthy or privileged, since it would be a few years (1846) before the invention of marble scissors would allow the mass manufacture and sale of marbles to be profitable. A marble marker would use marble scissors to cut off portions of a multicolored and threaded glass rod. These portions were then heated and twisted as the glass would become molten. The invention of marble scissors allowed marbles to become very popular throughout Europe and the United States.

Zachary Taylor 1849-1850

U.S. President Zachary Taylor, 1849-1850As a presidential candidate, Zachary Taylor inadvertently helped rob the patent office. The patent office used to keep jewels for safekeeping. Naturally, to thieves this made the patent office a ripe target for burglary. On November 8, 1848, election day, a wide assortment of jewels was stolen from the patent office during the "Great" robbery, as it was dubbed by the media. According to reports, officials determined the thieves chose this time because they figured the guards would be preoccupied following the presidential election. Also, the strong moonlight that night (something that would help with seeing things in the dark) in addition to the guards' focus on the election may have allowed the robber(s) to get away with the loot. According to one theory, the robber(s) may have entered the building and hid themselves in the attic until all visitors in the building had left. "The Great Patent Office Jewel Robbery" received a great deal of attention in spite of news on the election results.

Millard Fillmore 1850-1853

President Millard Fillmore and his family were the first family at the White House to enjoy meals made on a cooking stove. But it wasn't as simple as it is today, when the unit is installed and people already know the general functioning of it. The cooking stove was so new at the time that even the cook couldn't figure out how to use the contraption. Like any good president, Fillmore decided to solve the problem. He marched down to the patent office, looked up the patent for the invention, studied the drawings and returned with the knowledge of how the cooking stove was supposed to work. When he returned to the White House, he taught the cook how to use it.

Franklin Pierce 1853-1857

When Franklin Pierce became President in 1853, major advancements in housing amenities were becoming available around the country. One of the perks of being President that many may not realize is that the White House is commonly the first house in the country to enjoy these new amenities. During Pierce's presidency, the first central-heating system was installed in the White House. In the early 1800s, central heating allowed buildings to be larger and Pierce and his family were able to have such a convenience when many people were still using open fire or cast iron stoves to keep their houses warm. The Pierce White House also had the first bathroom with hot and cold running water. Such a modern convenience was also very rare at the time.

Abraham Lincoln 1861-1865

President Abraham Lincoln, 1861-1865Abraham Lincoln is the only U.S. President to hold a patent. While an Illinois congressman in 1849, Lincoln was issued a patent for a "manner of buoying vessels," commonly called a "floating drydock." While growing up, Lincoln experienced a few close calls when traveling by boat. His idea featured attaching a set of bellows to the hull of the ship just below the water line so the boat could float clearly in shallow water. Lincoln's patented invention was never commercialized. Lincoln called the development of patent laws one of the most important developments "in the world's history." He thought it "added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius." You can take a look at the model for his invention at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of American History in Washington D.C.

Rutherford B. Hayes 1877-81

In December 1877, the first telephone was installed in the White House while Rutherford B. Hayes was president. He spoke to Alexander Graham Bell, who called from 13 miles away. Bell had just invented the telephone in March of 1876 and The White House was one of the first places to receive this invention that would rapidly spread throughout the world. The telephone was so new at the time that the White House phone number was "1."

James A. Garfield 1881

Along with giving one of the first telephones to Rutherford B. Hayes, Alexander Graham Bell also helped President James A. Garfield when he was shot. On July 12, 1881, an assassin shot President Garfield. After thinking about the possibilities, Alexander Graham Bell hurriedly tried to invent a metal detector to locate the bullet in Garfield's chest. By using his previous knowledge (the telephone amplifies sound made through wire), Bell created an induction-balance electrical device that appeared to detect metal properly. However, Bell's attempt to detect the bullet was unsuccessful because the president was lying on a bed with metal springs. At the time, no one thought to move him from the bed. Garfield died September 19, 1881 from internal hemorrhage and infection. Forty-four years later in 1925, Gerhard Fischar created a model of the portable metal detector.

Grover Cleveland 1885-1889; 1893-1897

U.S. President Grover ClevelandIn December 1895, President Grover Cleveland unveiled a radical new invention in the White House: the first ever Christmas tree lit with electrical lights. The tree was quite large with over a hundred multicolored lights. In 1882, Thomas Edison's friend and partner Edward Johnson hand-wired eighty patriotic red, white, and blue lights around a rotating evergreen tree in his home. The press were invited to see this display, but refused the offer when they sensed a publicity stunt. Up until the unveiling of the White House Christmas tree thirteen years later, most people did not know about the possibility of Christmas lights. Up until this time, it was very expensive to light a tree with electric lights, but the popularity of lights increased when the general public noticed the White House display. The upper class soon started hosting Christmas tree parties. Now, between the White House and Washington Monument during Christmas season, one can find a forty-foot spruce decorated with approximately 13,000 colorful lights.

Benjamin Harrison 1889-1893

While President Cleveland apparently embraced electric lights, they frightened his replacement, President Benjamin Harrison. Permanent electric lights were installed in the White House while Harrison was president. The popularity of electric lights really took off during this era, but after President Harrison received an electrical shock from a light switch, his family feared touching the light switches. In fact, First Lady Caroline Harrison never used electric lights. The Harrison family often made their servants turn the lights on and off for them. They were so afraid to use the switches that the Harrisons often went to bed with all the lights in the White House still on!

William McKinley 1897-1901

What invention a few yards away could have helped save President William McKinley's life? On September 5, 1901 President McKinley gave a speech at the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. After the speech, an anarchist shot him with a concealed .32 caliber revolver. Doctors performed emergency surgery but could not locate the bullet. As was the practice of the day, they closed up McKinley's wounds and let him go. He showed a bit of improvement after the surgery but ended up dying on September 14th from an infection caused by the bullet still lodged in his back. Strangely enough, Thomas Edison was displaying his new invention, the X-ray machine, a few yards away from where McKinley got shot. Doctors decided against using Edison's X-ray machine invention because they were afraid of what side effects it might have brought to McKinley. Go figure. Twenty years earlier, doctors let Alexander Graham Bell use some MacGuyvered together metal detector on James A. Garfield, yet Edison couldn't use his X-Ray invention on McKinley. Perhaps they didn't feel that death was that bad a side effect.

Theodore Roosevelt 1901-09

President Theodore Roosevelt 1901-1909Theodore Roosevelt's greatest contribution to inventing still delights children (and some adults) to this day. While visiting the south to settle a border dispute between Mississippi and Louisiana, President Roosevelt took a hunting trip in the area. His hunt was going poorly and his staff tried to help him by capturing something that he could shoot. The staff tied up a small Louisiana black bear cub for the president to "hunt." However, Roosevelt could not, uh, "bear" the thought of shooting the cub, so he spared its life. A political cartoonist used the story as a metaphor for how he handled the Mississippi and Louisiana boundary dispute. The cartoon showed Roosevelt with his back turned on a cute little bear. A Brooklyn toy store owner was so inspired by the story and cartoon that he decided to make a stuffed bear and put it on display. Even though he only intended it as a display item, hordes of customers wanted to buy such a stuffed bear. The store owner asked for permission to use his name for making stuffed bears and the "Teddy Bear" had its beginning! The most ironic thing, though, is that Theodore Roosevelt loathed being called "Teddy." Theodore Roosevelt was also the first President to ride in a car, to own a car and to ride in an airplane.

William Taft 1909-1913

President Taft used to keep a milk cow named Pauline on the White House lawn. Pauline used to supply him with fresh milk. The president allowed Pauline to freely graze on the White House grounds until she developed brucellosis, an infectious disease caused by bacteria, and had to be taken away. Taft was the last president to keep a cow on the White House lawn. The invention and development of pasteurization, which started as early as 1856, had started to become much more popular by the time Taft was president. Pasteurization had become so widespread that the first compulsory pasteurization law applying to all milk, except that from tuberculin tested cows, had gone in effect in Chicago in 1908. Pasteurization decreased the popularity and likelihood of milk cows like Pauline to be found within the common urban environment.

Woodrow Wilson 1913-1921

U.S. President Woodrow WilsonWoodrow Wilson helped invent a famous organization that took steps toward unifying the world. After World War I, President Wilson worked hard to establish the League of Nations, an intergovernmental organization established for the promotion of international peace, thus helping invent a prominent historical organization. He came up with his famous "Fourteen Points" that could provide the basis for everlasting peace in the world. However, the Senate rejected the treaty to join the League of Nations. Wilson was so pained by the rejection of the treaty that he suffered a stroke and paralysis while campaigning for the organization he had worked so hard to establish. Although the League of Nations ceased its activities when it failed to prevent World War II, it helped provide a model for the United Nations after the end of the war in 1945.

Franklin D. Roosevelt 1933-1945

President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945)How did the invention of the radio help Franklin D. Roosevelt? The invention and subsequent popularity of the radio was the perfect platform for Roosevelt to communicate to the American people without ever having to leave the White House and reveal his paralysis – something he had acquired twelve years before he first became president in 1921. Roosevelt was able to build great confidence and trust in the American public over the radio through what became famously known as his "fireside chats." With the radio, Roosevelt was able to convey his innovative policies. Throughout his presidency, he delivered a total of twenty-seven fireside chats.

Harry Truman 1945-1953

For Harry Truman, an invention presented to his predecessor, FDR, helped him win the 1948 election. In 1942, President Roosevelt was presented with the Pullman railroad car, the Ferdinand Magellan. It could be seen as the prior equivalent of the Air Force One for the nation's railroads. Unlike Roosevelt, who liked to travel slowly in the car, President Truman used to give nightmares to railroad engineers who often had to travel at speeds around 80 miles per hour. During President Truman's campaign tour in 1948, he used the Magellan to travel more than 48,000 miles and make more than three hundred fifty whistle-stop speeches. Many of these speeches were made right from the rear platform of the Ferdinand Magellan.

Dwight D. Eisenhower 1953-1961

President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961)Dwight D. Eisenhower was the first president to use a new invention called a helicopter on an important mission during his administration. During times of conflict in the Cold War, there was much talk of providing Dwight Eisenhower a helicopter for use during emergency situations. Recent advancements in helicopters in the mid-nineteenth century allowed the United States Air Force to purchase two Bell H-13J Rangers for President Eisenhower's use. After a journalist joked that pretty soon Eisenhower, an avid golfer, would start using the helicopters to go to the Burning Tree Country Club, Eisenhower began "Operation Alert" and became the first president to ride in a helicopter. Operation Alert was a civil defense drill that took place several times during Eisenhower's presidency. It required people to take cover while Eisenhower rode away in a helicopter. Advancements in the engine and speed of the helicopter allowed the president to be safe.

John F. Kennedy 1961-1963

President John F. Kennedy (1961-1963)Just as Franklin D. Roosevelt effectively used the radio, John F. Kennedy became known as the first television president. Not because he was the first to appear on TV, but because many believe the young senator was able to defeat Vice President Nixon with his striking looks that the American public observed during televised debates. Furthermore, during his brief presidency, Kennedy and his advisors decided that the best way to reach the American public would be to make use of the television, an invention growing in popularity across the nation. They pushed forth heavy political messages with well-written, well-timed and well-delivered speeches. They also allowed press conferences to be covered on live television for the first time, displaying Kennedy's comfort in front of the camera. He delivered sixty-four live press conferences during his short two and a half year administration.

Ronald Reagan 1981-1989

President Ronald Reagan (1981-1989)Watch a clip of President Reagan and you'd swear his eyes sparkled as he delivered his message. That was not due to any particular mischievousness, it was actually because President Reagan was the first president to wear contact lenses. His eyesight was not too great and wearing contact lenses helped his appearance. They even added that sparkle to his eyes. However, Reagan found it very difficult to establish eye contact with his audience when wearing contact lenses. In order to combat this problem, Reagan trained himself to just wear one contact lens. He would focus through one eye while glancing at his cards, then focus through the other eye to address the audience.

George H.W. Bush 1989-1993 and George W. Bush 2001-2009

Both Presidents Bush are commonly hailed for their seemingly endless ability to invent heretofore-unknown words for the English language. Bush Sr.'s "hyporhetorical" questions and Bush Jr.'s "misunderestimated" are two examples. While comedians and political cartoonists make a living off of this, the Bushes have also been quietly credited for being the most famous players of a newly invented sport – wallyball. A form of volleyball played in a racquetball court, wallyball was invented by Joe Garcia in 1979. The sport has really started to catch on with millions of people now playing it. The Bushes play it at Camp David with the elder Bush, credited as a wallyball ace, often stealing the show. However, supposedly the younger Bush has no less fun, as an author has written that W "used to spike like crazy" and even "hit you in the head." It seems that retreats at Camp David may be a lot more intense than they are made to look on TV!


Back to Newsletter