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Our holdings include hundreds of glass and film negatives/transparencies that we've scanned ourselves; in addition, many other photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs) in the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) They are adjusted, restored and reworked by your webmaster in accordance with his aesthetic sensibilities before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here. All of these images (including "derivative works") are protected by copyright laws of the United States and other jurisdictions and may not be sold, reproduced or otherwise used for commercial purposes without permission.

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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Old Patent Office: 1865

Old Patent Office: 1865

Washington, D.C. "Old Patent Office model room (1861-65)." Wet-plate glass negative from the Brady-Handy Collection, Library of Congress. View full size.

On Shorpy:
Today's Top 5

Model Room

I'm guessing this is the west gallery, because it's relatively short in length. The Patent Office had four model galleries that formed a square on the top floor. Only the east gallery, the one used for the Lincoln inaugural (and I'm pretty sure not the one in this photo), still remains in its original form. The north and west galleries burned in 1877, destroying a number of patent models. Adolph Cluss, a prominent Washington architect, designed replacements for the two galleries and also thoroughly redesigned and replaced the south gallery in the 1880s. If you visit the museum today you will see Cluss's Victorian exuberance on proud display throughout the three redesigned galleries. The original Robert Mills-designed Lincoln Gallery is much more restrained.

[This is short? It looks to be 200 or 300 feet to the window from the camera. - Dave]

Now Part of the Smithsonian

The old Patent Office has been home to the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum since 1968. Recently renovated, it's very nice inside.

Civil War Hospital

A couple of years earlier, these halls were filled with wounded soldiers. Walt Whitman, who visited them, remembered "the glass cases, the beds, the forms lying there, the gallery above, and the marble paving under foot - the suffering, and the fortitude to bear it."

The use of the building as a hospital ended in March 1863, and the inaugural ball took place there in March 1865.

The Old Schnozzola

This picture makes me think, "Good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are."

Patent Model Museum

This tickled a memory of visiting a patent model museum in some small town. A search narrowed it down to one in Ft. Smith Arkansas where I briefly lived and the synapses reconnected. It features models from the early 1800s. I wonder if the museum's roots are in the model patent diaspora Stanton cites?

Thank you again

Stanton_Square. You always seem to come up with an answer.

Patent Model Legacy

The story of the ultimate fate of the patent models is a sad tale of mismanagement and unrecognized value. One telling is available at American Heritage. More recent articles: Christian Science Monitor and Forbes.

Update: Some patent models are now being sold online. Go buy yours here.

On another note, this hall, one of the largest rooms in Washington at its time, was used for Lincoln's second inaugural ball.

Modern times

As a holder of numerous patents, I can tell you that the Patent Office doesn't keep models anymore (unless they stole them from me last night) because I never gave them a single one (nor did they ask for any). I think the patent total is up in the 7+ million range now; that would make for quite an exhibit hall.

Where are they now

The Arts and Industries building next to the Smithsonian Castle used to have cabinets just like these full of interesting but unexplained objects. Wonder if that is where this collection ended up. Anyone know?

Sorry, Mr. Dickens

When I read Charles Dickens's account of traveling across America, with a complaint about Americans' constant tobacco-spitting on every page, I assumed he was exaggerating for effect. However, so many 19th-century pictures of spittoon-filled rooms I've seen on Shorpy prompt me to offer the great man an apology.

I wonder what all the stools are for. Did they have guards sitting there, or would people come and sit to study the models?

Outstanding Shot

The view is fantastic. I hope we will get some pics of the items in the display cabinets. Where are those things now?


Is it still the practice to retain a model of each patent granted? What a fun place that would be to visit.

Let me be the first to say

Wow, lookit all the spittoons!

SHORPY HISTORICAL PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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