City of Fullerton
Public Information Office

303 W. Commonwealth
Fullerton, CA 92832
Phone: (714) 738-6317


Subject :

“The Curious World of Patent Models” to Open at Fullerton Museum
Exhibit Reception on January 19, 2013
Contact :Fullerton Museum Center    (714) 738-6545
Fullerton City Manager’s Office    (714) 738-6317

Fullerton, Ca – For a generation that has grown up with new inventions such as ipads, Snuggies, Kindles and ShamWow, the Fullerton Museum will present a new exhibit that takes you back to a time when inventors were required to submit working, scale models when applying for a patent.

Visitors to the Fullerton Museum Center will get a unique look back in time when the museum unveils its new exhibit, “The Curious World of Patent Models” which opens Saturday, Jan. 19 through March 31, 2013.

An Exhibit Opening Reception will be held from 6 p.m - 9 p.m. on Jan. 19.  “The Curious World of Patent Models” features over 50 original working models, including everything from the first patented rocking chair to the first burglar alarm. The reception is free for museum members and $10 for all guests.

From the time the U.S. Patent office was founded in 1790 and throughout the industrial revolution, inventors were required to apply for a patent.  A patent is a government-issued document that protects an invention or idea for up to twenty years.  This gives the inventor the opportunity to produce and sell the invention – or license others to do so – and to make a profit.  And while “patent model” may not be a familiar term today, to U.S. inventors between 1790 and the late 1800s, it was commonplace.  In order to obtain a patent, an application had to be accompanied by a working model of the invention.  These were called “patent models,” and were generally no larger than 12 inches square.  The models were made for the patent examiners, who compared similar inventions side by side, to see if the patents were new and different.  It was a unique system because no other patent system anywhere in the world required models – then or now.  The Patent Act of 1870 rescinded the model requirement, although models continued to be submitted and accepted through the early 20th Century.

The Rothschild Patent Model Collection is the largest private collection of viewable United States patent models in the world, and includes the work of many women, foreign and famous inventors. Containing over 4,000 patent models and related documents the collection spans America’s Industrial Revolution.  The 58 models in this exhibition were created between 1852 and 1902 and vary from household to mechanical and technical to simplistic. Only one model exists for each invention, complete with its hand-written original tag. 

Museum visitors will recognize the names associated with many of the models:  a still from the Beam family of Bardstown, Kentucky, Christian Steinway’s capodastro frame for pianofortes, Eli Whitney’s (the son) breech-loading firearm, John Sargent’s improvement for safe doors, and a “machine for casting confectionary” by Stephen Whitman.  The exhibition will also include patent models representing inventions and improvements from farmers, schoolteachers, carpenters, bankers and a house wife-all of whom by their everyday experiences envisioned and developed new and life-improving ideas.

Today, there are more than 7 million patents, but applicants now submit only written specifications and diagrams of their inventions.  Most of the early patent models have been destroyed or lost, purchased by collectors, or donated to museums, including the Smithsonian Institution.

The exhibition at the Fullerton Museum is part of a 14 city national tour over a three-year period.  The tour was developed and managed by Smith Kramer Fine Art Services, an exhibition tour development company in Kansas City, Missouri.