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August 24, 2022 - The Cornelious Swartwout Waffle Iron

On August 24, 1869, Cornelius Swartwout was awarded U.S. Patent No. 94,043 for a Waffle Iron. Swartwout was born in Westerlo, New York, and served in the Union Army during the American Civil War.

Waffles and wafers were cooked in ancient Greece. A few hundred years before Swartwout’s invention, the Dutch cooked waffles and wafers over open fires between hinged iron plates having long wooden handles. These irons were heavy and cumbersome, often resulting in either the user or the waffle being burned. In addition, the Dutch irons could not be opened easily to check whether the waffle was fully cooked.

Swartwout’s design allowed the iron to sit on a woodstove, but the iron could still be turned over to brown both sides of the waffle. The design also facilitated raising the upper half of the iron to pour batter into the iron and check the progress of the waffle as it cooked. And the improved design made the iron easier to handle, reducing the likelihood that the cook would be burnt. 


July 20, 2022 - But will it Fly?

On July 20, 1971, Henry A. Smolinski was awarded U.S. Design Patent No. D221,260 for the aesthetic appearance of a combined land and air vehicle. Smolinski and his business partner Hal Blake made a few prototypes by joining Cessna Skymaster airframes to Ford Pintos. What possibly could go wrong?

On August 26, 1973, a prototype made its first flight test, but the test pilot was forced to land in a bean field shortly after takeoff when a weld holding an airframe strut to the Pinto failed. After repairs, Smolinski and Blake made a second test flight on September 11, 1973, with Smolinski piloting. Shortly after takeoff, the right strut detached from the Pinto again, but this time the Pinto broke free and plummeted to the ground, instantly killing both men. The National Transportation Safety Board investigated the crash and determined poor design, poor weld quality, and numerous loose parts caused the crash. With both men dead, no further test flights were conducted, and their manufacturing company was liquidated.

Obtaining a design patent provides no guarantee that an aircraft will fly.​ 


July 13, 2022 - The Second Patent No. 1?

On July 13, 1836, John Ruggles was awarded U.S. Patent No. 1 for traction wheels. The U.S. Patent Office had already issued about 9957 patents. Why was this Patent No. 1? 

A fire at the Patent Office in 1836 destroyed all previously issued patents. The Patent Office did not keep a log of patents, so the Commissioner could not be certain which number was next. The Commissioner decided to start over at U.S. Patent No. 1. When one of the original patents is found and a copy is sent to the Office, the Office reissues the patent with a number preceded by an X. The Office relies upon copies of the inventor files of the prior patents to reconstruct its library of X-patents. To date, only about 2800 pre-1836 patents have been recovered.

Why did the Patent Office issue U.S. Patent No. 1 to Ruggles? Ruggles was a sitting U.S. Senator who served on the Senate Committee on Patents and Patent Office. He was in the process of writing or just finished writing a bill to reorganize the Patent Office. I can only speculate, but who would you pick to assign No. 1 to if you were Commissioner of Patents?    

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