The only president to hold a patent


Forum Host
Oct 10, 2012
Mt. Jackson, Va
On May 22, 1849, Abraham Lincoln received Patent No. 6469 for a device to lift boats over shoals, an invention which was never manufactured. However, it eventually made him the only U.S. president to hold a patent. Lincoln displayed a lifelong fascination with mechanical things. William H. Herndon, his last law partner, attributed this to his father, saying, "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."
Lincoln started work on his invention between sessions of Congress in 1848. On his way home to Illinois his boat became stranded on a sandbar. As Herndon told the story, "The captain ordered the hands to collect all the loose planks, empty barrels and boxes and force them under the sides of the boat. These empty casks were used to buoy it up. After forcing enough of them under the vessel she lifted gradually and at last swung clear of the opposing sand bar."
Herndon observed, "Lincoln had watched this operation very intently. It no doubt carried him back to the days of his navigation on the turbulent Sangamon, when he and John Hanks had rendered similar service at New Salem dam to their employer the volatile Offut. Continual thinking on the subject of lifting vessels over sand bars and other obstructions in the water suggested to him the idea of inventing an apparatus for this purpose." Lincoln created a scale model of his invention with the help of Walter Davis, a Springfield mechanic, who provided tools and advice. Herndon recalled, "Occasionally he would bring the model in the office, and while whittling on it would descant on its merits and the revolution it was destined to work in steamboat navigation. Although I regarded the thing as impracticable I said nothing, probably out of respect for Lincoln's well-known reputation as a boatman." Lincoln took the scale model with him to Washington and hired attorney Z. C. Robbins to apply for the patent. Part of his application read, "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..."



Dec 4, 2020
China/Kansas USA
My guess was Thomas Jefferson. He invented all sorts of things, many of which are on display at his home Monticello. I remember seeing his disk for coding messages, dumb waiter and a machine to make a second copy as your wrote.

Cool stuff.

The Patent office opened in 1790, rather surprising he never applied for one.