Magazine of the Month - Scientific American

Maybe you heard the news that downtown Denver will be the site of a new regional U.S. Patent and Trademark Office scheduled to open by September 2014. But what you may not know is that the first branch of the U.S. Patent Agency was founded by Scientific American.

Started in 1845 by Rufus Porter, Scientific American is the oldest continuously published magazine in the U.S. Rufus Porter, an inventor himself, never stayed at any job for very long and in 1846 sold the weekly paper for $800 to Orson Desaix Munn and Alfred Ely.

The subject matter of those early issues was primarily patents and inventions with bits of news, trivia, gossip, poetry and home cures. Each week the magazine published the official list of patents received directly from the U.S. Patent Office. In the June 2, 1849 issue the list of patents includes a patent awarded to the young Congressman from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln, who invented a method of lifting boats over shoals. Because of this emphasis on invention the Scientific American offices became a meeting place for inventors. Swamped with questions on patents and patent law the magazine started its own patent agency in 1850.

For the first 100 years Scientific American chronicled the major discoveries and inventions of the Industrial Revolution - the Bessemer steel converter, the telephone and the incandescent light bulb. Among its early clients were some of the great inventors of the time - Samuel Morse - inventor of the telegraph, Dr. R.J.Gatling - inventor of the Gatling gun, Elias Howe and A.B. Wilson - inventors of the sewing machine and the great Thomas A. Edison. In 1877 Thomas Edison brought his new talking box to the offices of Scientific American for inspection. This was the first public audience for the phonograph. There were entire issues devoted to the bicycle, the automobile and the new flying machines.

Today the magazine is published in 14 languages, read in more than 30 countries and has a worldwide audience of more than 5 million.

If you would like more information on the U.S. Patent Office and the new patent legislation check out the America Invents Act Roadshow Monday, September 17 at the Central Library

Here's a slide show from the archives of Scientific American.

Written by Mary on September 9, 2012


Anonymous on October 31, 2012


I had no idea what an important role the Scientific American has played historically. Thanks for letting us know all about this.

Does the library have some of those really old editions, such as ones about the telegraph, telephone and such?

Mary on November 1, 2012


Thanks for the comment. Yes! The Denver Public Library has a complete collection of Scientific American back to 1846. So that would cover most of the great inventions of that era. There's a lot of great history in those old magazines.

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