1867 15¢ Lincoln, black
US #91 – 1868 Lincoln “E” Grill

On May 22, 1849, Abraham Lincoln became the only future US president to receive a patent.

When Lincoln was a teenager, he took a flatboat down the Ohio and Mississippi River to New Orleans while working as a hired hand. In the coming years he grew accustomed to traveling the rivers for similar work. In the 1830s he and some fellow workers were traveling the river when their flatboat got stuck on a milldam.

The quick-thinking Lincoln immediately began unloading cargo and then drilled a hole in the boat’s bow to drain water that had entered the boat, before filling it back in. He and a group of locals then brought the boat to shore and carried it past the dam, where they filled it back up and continued on to New Orleans.

1869 90¢ Lincoln Pictorial
US #122 – 1869 Lincoln Pictorial

Lincoln went on to become a lawyer and politician, though he never forgot that experience. In fact, in his first political announcement of 1832 he stressed the importance of improving navigation along the Sangamon River.

Years later, Lincoln was once again in a boat that was stranded on a sandbar. This time, the ship’s captain ordered the crew to gather all the loose planks, empty barrels, and boxes and put them under the sides of the boat. Eventually they had enough empty containers under the boat to buoy it up and over the sandbar.

1870 6¢ Lincoln, carmine, H grill
US #137 – 1870 Lincoln Banknote stamp

Lincoln gave this experience considerable thought, and it likely inspired his invention. Though he was a lawyer and politician, he had always had an interest in mechanics. As his law partner William Herndon recounted, “he evinced a decided bent toward machinery or mechanical appliances, a trait he doubtless inherited from his father who was himself something of a mechanic and therefore skilled in the use of tools.”

1909 2¢ Lincoln Memorial Issue
US #367 was issued for Lincoln’s 100th birthday.

Lincoln’s resulting idea was called “Buoying Vessels Over Shoals.” His idea was to create a system of waterproof fabric compartments that could be inflated when needed to help ships easily move over difficult obstacles. As he saw it, when a ship got stuck, the crew could inflate these chambers at the bottom of the boat that would then lift it over top of the water, away from potential damage. During his research, Lincoln built a scale model boat with his device attached that was later placed on display at the Smithsonian. (Click here to see the model.)

1923 3¢ Lincoln, violet
US #555 was based on a photo taken of Lincoln just before his 55th birthday.

In 1847, Lincoln traveled to Washington to begin a two-year term in Congress. There he met patent attorney Zenas C. Robbins who submitted his application on March 10, 1849. Then on May 22, 1849, Lincoln was awarded patent number 6,469.

The patent begins:

“Be it known that I, Abraham Lincoln, of Springfield, in the county of Sangamon, in the state of Illinois, have invented a new and improved manner of combining adjustable buoyant air chambers with a steam boat or other vessel for the purpose of enabling their draught of water to be readily lessened to enable them to pass over bars, or through shallow water, without discharging their cargoes.”

1954 Liberty Series - 4¢ Abraham Lincoln
US #1036 – from the Liberty Series

In spite of this, Lincoln’s invention was never produced or put into use. Some doubt if it would have been practical. However, his experience in securing a patent, as well as his previous experience as a patent lawyer, left an impression on Lincoln. In the coming years he twice delivered lectures on the patent system, which he saw as an important aspect of economic development. In fact, he once said that the creation of patent laws was the third most important development in world history behind the discovery of America and the creation of the printing press.

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23 Comments

  1. from 1964 we lirn abut u s haestry in school plusothers canter in needs to lirn more in more the liefs thanks

  2. This day in history states about Lincoln:
    “In fact, he once said that the creation of patent laws was the third most important development in world history behind the discovery of America and the creation of the printing press.”

    I’m glad he only said that once!

  3. Fascinating. For a man with only one year of formal education. He was so accomplished. Truly a self-made man. An inspiration.

  4. Welcome!!! Guess what USPS will release the reissue Classic 19th century 6 stamps (mid 1860s) on June 1 2016 calls (Classic Forever).

  5. How,could Lincoln be the only future president awarded a patent? Gore said he invented the internet.

  6. Where the Hell are the Abraham Lincoln’s today? Have we only Warren Harding to compare him to in an inkling?

    1. You’re kidding I hope. Harding was the most corrupt president in US history, barely ahead of Grant, Wilson and Nixon. But those four are far behind Trump – what a disgrace to the office.

  7. Well I just learned something else about great American President, Abraham Lincoln. He was indeed a smart man ! This new information for me, about him, a lawyer, a great U.S. President AND a patent achiever is amazing. He obviously possessed a brilliant mind and proved he was a perfect choice to lead our troubled Nation at the time !! Thank you, Mystic, for expanding my knowledge and understanding of this former GREAT American leader and patriot !!

  8. After the Civil War this country was worse off than because of the Great Depression. Think about it… the South was completely destroyed in every aspect. Talk about unemployment, freed slaves had no work or any means of support. Would transistor to share cropping of been so bad? Granting full citizenship at a less paced plan.

    But wait, time for another war, only way this nation can deal with overpopulation. Have seen something like this before with say like George Washington and Franklin Roosevelt. Has a bit of hood-winking been taking place over time? Washington orchestrated the One World Order inception way back lol. Look over a $1 sometime

    Regards, Rich

    1. Being in poverty during the depression is one thing – a terrible thing at that. But facing death by your countrymen everyday…well, neither one was a good option.

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