Patent Models at American Art
The Smithsonian American Art Museum's historic main building in Washington, D.C. was the home of the United States Patent Office from 1840 until 1932. President Andrew Jackson authorized the construction of a patent office building in Washington, D.C. on July 4, 1836. It was designed to celebrate American invention, technical ingenuity, and the scientific advancements that the patent process represents.

American patent law in the nineteenth century required the submission and public display of a model with each patent application. These scale models in miniature illustrate not only the imaginative fervor of the era but also the amazing craftsmanship required to fabricate these often intricate works of art. Many of the models were constructed by specialized makers in workshops located near the Patent Office. All of these models were originally displayed in cases nine feet high, along with some 200,000 others, in the grand galleries on the third floor of the museum's building, which was completed in 1868.

Alan and Ann Rothschild recently donated the twenty-five patent models that you see here to the museum. It’s a fitting place for them, since this is where they were first exhibited back in the nineteenth century. Fifteen of them are on display in the exhibition, Inventing a Better Mousetrap: Patent Models from the Rothschild Collection, which features thirty-two models (the rest are still in the Rothschild Collection) and is on view through November 3, 2013.

Want to know more? A webcast of a conversation between Alan Rothschild and Charles Robertson, who organized the exhibition, is available online. They discuss nineteenth-century American ingenuity, the patent models that represent the imaginative fever of the era, and the amazing craftsmanship that attracts collectors .
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