Vermont Town Must Rescind Its Role in Patent History
The legend of a Vermont town being home to America’s first patent is no more.
For decades, Pittsford, Vermont celebrated being the hometown of inventor Samuel Hopkins. On July 31, 1790, Hopkins received the first U.S. patent for an improvement in “the making of Pot ash and Pearl ash by a new Apparatus and Process.” Potash is an ingredient used in fertilizer.
Samuel Hopkins was the first person granted a patent in the United States. However, we now know that he hailed from Philadelphia.
It is easy to understand the confusion. The original patent documents were destroyed in a fire in 1936, leaving a record that only included the name of the first inventor. In the 1930s, a genealogist identified Pittsford as Samuel Hopkins’ hometown. However, decades later, additional research by lawyer and historian David Maxey, revealed the error. Hopkins was really a Quaker farmer who resided in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He never lived in Vermont.
Despite the discovery in 1998, the original legend lived on, perpetuated by otherwise reliable sources, including the Wikipedia, U.S. Patent and Trademark and Trademark Office (USPTO), and Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy. Efforts to correct the myth were largely unsuccessful, even resulting in a new historical account in which Hopkins lived in both Pittsford and Philadelphia.
Begrudgingly, the town of Pittsford has finally decided it is time to let go. “This has been going on too long,” John Dumville, who oversees state-owned historic sites for the state of Vermont, told Corporate Counsel. “The state has made the decision to have the marker removed.”
While Pittsford, Vermont can no longer claim that it is the home of America’s first patent, it will forever be known as one of America’s most progressive thinking citys that places accurate scholarship above parochial thinking and home pride. The story of the Marker in Pttsford, Vermont will remain a footnote in history and the open minded honesty of the people of Pittsford is the pride of Vermont.