Within a few years Congress has appropri ated a considerable sum of money for testing inventions, besides a great amount in purcha sing patents. By the report before us, by Hon. W. H. Bissel, of Illinois, on the ether question, we learn that $110,000 have been appropriated to test inventions within the past ten years, but little of which has re sulted in permanent success. We cannot say however, that we cavil at or blame govern ment for making prudent and unextravagant appropriations to test reasonable and plausi ble inventions, nay, we admire and approve the spirit which dictates the appropriation of a reasonable sum to test any new and appa rently useful invention, that would prove be neficial to our country. There is great dan ger, however, in making such appropriations, lest they may be granted for totally unwor thy objects through crafty solicitation and an undercurrent influence. Out of nine appropri ations to test inventions, six of them do not appear to have been altogether successful, at least they are jiot now, so far as we are in formed, in use; such as $15,000 for Colt's sub marine battery ; $5,000 for preserving canvas; the testing of fire ships byU. Brown, $10,000; testing Crutchett's gas lights, $17,500 ; and $20,000 for testing Page's electro magnetic power; and $5,000 for testing inventions to prevent steam boiler explosions. The money thus expended was ostensibly for the benefit of science; but Morse's Telegraph, for which $30,000 were granted to test the line between Baltimore and Washington appears to be the only successful invention out of the nine for which an appropriation was made. Our government has purchased quite a number of patents, and among the grants we perceive $76,300 to the heirs of Robert Ful ton. We also perceive that $25,000 were granted to Messrs. R. S. McCulloch, and J. C. Booth, for the use of their patent processes for refining gold, which we believe is not used at all now, and respecting which there have been such hot words and controversy between the patentees. Government has appropriated a great deal more than what appears in this report of the Committee on Ether; for example: $10,000 was paid for Hunter's propeller wheel, lor one of our ships in the navy, and it turned out a complete failure. We suppose that others have received like benefits for producing like results. Uncle Sam is looked upon by many as a fine old gentleman, with exceedingly deep, wide, and altogether too heavy pockets, for the benefit of his health to carry. We sympathize with an inventor of moderate means who has an apparently good and useful invention, but which requires an amount of capital far beyond his ability to test fairly; in such a case we commend the inventor who has faith in his project, in soliciting Congress to test it fairly, and demonstrate its usefulness and benefit to man. But we are opposed to Congress voting money either to purchase an untried patent, or testing the merits of any new invention when the owners ol the one or the author of the other has capital at his com mand, and abundant ability to introduce it into public use.
This article was originally published with the title "Money Paid by Government for Inventions" in Scientific American 8, 28, 221 (March 1853)