PATENT MODEL MUSEUM

This is the Rogers-Tilles house, believed to have been built by the founder of Fort Smith back in 1840. Today it is the office of State Representative Carolyn Pollan, the office of some real-estate company (I assume also belonging to Rep. Pollan), and the repository of Rep. Pollan's patent model collection. She has 83 models and seventeen diagrams and mechanical illustrations of models that were destroyed in a fire at the patent office in 1836. The prints are on loan from the Smithsonian.

This isn't Ms. Pollan posing next to a patent model of a printing press. I think it's her charming, capable, knowlegeable and helpful administrative assistant.

So here's the deal on the patent models. In 1790, the U.S. government started the patent office to register and protect the intellectual property of its citizens. This was a whole new thing on Planet Earth. Before that, if you invented something, that invention was the property of your king, and the king licensed the rights to manufacture things which his people had invented. What a rip! No wonder there were so few significant technological developments for the fifteen hundred years before the American Revolution. What would be the point?

So anyway, to get a patent, one had to submit a cash payment ($30 for U.S. citizens, $300 for all foreigners except English, who had to pay $500) and a model that would fit in a one-foot-square box. As you can imagine, after a few decades, that presented the government with an expensive storage problem; so starting in 1870 all the inventor had to do was submit a drawing, unless the invention was a flying or perpetual motion machine, in which case he still had to submit a model.

Skip ahead another hudred years, and the government is unloading a pile of these old busted-up patent models to make room for the archiving of something it considers more important. Carolyn reads about it in Smithsonian magazine and rushes off to New York to buy a lot of 70 models. As it happens, that's the same year she bought this historic house, so she has a place to display her collection. Since buying that original batch she has added 13 models.

There's lots more interesting stuff here that I'm leaving for you to discover. It's well worth the visit, and the Darby House is less than a block away, so you can visit two small museums in one trip. Note the Darby House is open in the a.m. only.

RTJ--6/27/97



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