The patent system in the 19th century was a driver of economic expansion (or so it is said). That was problably true for a tiny minority of devices and processes that worked well and saved money. Some devices, such as the grindstone, were old tools, but improved manufacturing and distribution systems enabled them to have a greater impact in the industries of the day. Most of the 15,269 patents granted in 1866, however, were more optimistic than useful. The gizmos they covered may have demonstrated a desire to improve some aspect of the human condition but these inventions seem to lack some aspect of true usefulness or efficiency, or they were simply a more expensive method for getting the same result that could be achieved with existing and cheaper tools.

Take courage, or take heed, from the history of invention from 1845 to today in the Archive of Scientific American at