A Rare and Important Presidential Patent Signed by John Adams to the Founder of the American Mechanized Lumbering Industry

President John Adams issues Robert McKean a patent for the first ever steam-run saw mill or revolutionary “steam engines to the purpose of sawing, cutting, and manufacturing all kinds of lumber”

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We have found only 3 patents of Adams having reached the market in at least 40 years; Only ten patents also signed by the Secretary of State are known to have survived.

The mechanical genius of America was early turned towards inventions and improvements in various kinds of machinery. To encourage this,...

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A Rare and Important Presidential Patent Signed by John Adams to the Founder of the American Mechanized Lumbering Industry

President John Adams issues Robert McKean a patent for the first ever steam-run saw mill or revolutionary “steam engines to the purpose of sawing, cutting, and manufacturing all kinds of lumber”

We have found only 3 patents of Adams having reached the market in at least 40 years; Only ten patents also signed by the Secretary of State are known to have survived.

The mechanical genius of America was early turned towards inventions and improvements in various kinds of machinery. To encourage this, in April 1790 Congress passed the Patent Act, under which the right to grant patents was permitted for new inventions and improvements upon old ones. The first patent was issued in July 1790. Of particular interest in this era of mechanization were those inventions or processes in which steam was the moving power.

In 1791, two men received identical patents from the Federal Government. John Fitch and James Rumsey claimed to have invented the same technology: a steamboat. Also receiving patents for steam craft in that year were Nathan Read, John Stevens, and Englehart Cruse. Most of these early steamboat claims came to nothing, but a few are worth noting. Fitch did build a functioning steamboat, and John Stevens, perhaps more of a steam engine inventor than a steamboat inventor, went on to practice engineering for the rest of his life, and left sons who were also engineers. He is said to have put the first steam-driven locomotive on tracks in the U.S. in 1826. This was done on tracks on his own estate just to prove it could be done. Stevens obtained from the New Jersey legislature the first charter ever granted in the United States for a railroad. One of his sons founded the Stevens Institute of Technology.

In 1798 Nicholas Roosevelt and James Sullivan received a patent for a double steam engine. And that same year, on March 24, Robert McKean obtained a patent for a steam-run sawmill, the first on record. His was the first application of steam to a saw mill in the United States. The introduction of steam power in the 19th century created many new possibilities for mills. Steam powered sawmills could be far more mechanized. Scrap lumber from the mill provided a ready fuel source for firing the boiler. Efficiency was increased, and the number of mills proliferated, creating a mechanized lumbering industry.

Document signed, three full pages, Philadephia, March 24, 1798, granting “Robert McKean, a citizen of the State of New Jersey” a patent for “Steam engines to the purpose of sawing, cutting, and manufacturing all kinds of lumber, which improvement has not been known or used before his application.” The seal is still present, and the document has been countersigned by Secretary of State Timothy Pickering and Attorney General Charles Lee. The text of McKean’s application is also recited in pages 2 and 3.

President John Adams signed only 163 patents. However, only ten also signed by the Secretary of State are known to have survived.

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