Politicians and Patents

Although politicians make patent laws, very few have had any real first-hand experience as inventors.

Perhaps the best known politician-inventor is President Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln, an attorney from Springfield, Illinois who had a life-long interest in inventions, received patent No. 6,469 on May 22, 1849 for a method of buoying vessels over shoals. (Amazingly, Lincoln filed his patent application only 73 days earlier on March 10—a pendency no modern inventor could hope for!)

The least known politician-inventor may very well be Harold LeClair Ickes, also of Illinois. Technically, Ickes was not a politician since he never held elected office. But he was politically active and campaigned for various progressive Republicans in the 1910s and 1920s. And In 1933, Ickes was appointed Secretary of the Interior by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a position he would hold until 1946. Independently-minded and honest, Ickes is noted for his competent management of the Public Works Administration, opposition to corruption and hostility toward facism.

When he wasn’t out campaigning for progressive causes, Ickes was an avid gardener and cultivator of dahlias. Shortly after Congress enacted a new law extending patent protection to certain asexually reproduced plants, Ickes applied for and received a plant patent for a new variety of dahlia that had an unusual and striking blend of colors described as coral red and Eugenie red. Unlike Lincoln, who had a response in less than three months, Ickes would have to wait 1 year, 5 months and 1 day for his patent.

Harold Ickes’ Dahlia, Plant Patent No. 19

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