Category Archives: technology

Abraham Lincoln, Patented Inventor

We're on the cusp of the Presidents Day holiday weekend in the U.S. While the nation's airwaves are once again full of advertisements for car and mattress sales, which is how American businesses have come to celebrate the event, the Inventions in Everything team is going to take a different route and celebrate the inventiveness of past U.S. Presidents.

As it happens, there's only one American President to whom a U.S. patent has ever been issued for something they invented. Abraham Lincoln was issued U.S. Patent 6,469 for his 1849 invention of a manner for Buoying Vessels Over Shoals. Here's the U.S. patent equivalent of Lincoln's later Gettysburg Address:

To all whom it may concern:

Be it known that I, Abraham Lincoln, of Springfield, in the County of Sangamon, in the State of Illinois, have invented a new and improved manner of combining adjustable buoyant air chambers with a steamboat or other vessel for the purpose of enabling their draght of water to be readily lessened to enable them to pass over bars, or through shallow water without discharging their cargoes; and I do hereby declare the following the be a full, clear, and exact description thereof, reference being had to the accompanying drawings making a part of this specification.

Here are the accompanying drawings:

U.S. Patent 6,469 Figures 1, 2, and 3

Better still, there's a physical model of Lincoln's patented invention on display at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History:

Smithsonian Institution: Physical Model of U.S. Patent 6,469

In 2013, Charles Kuralt narrated a 48-minute video segment celebrating Lincoln's patented invention on CBS News' Sunday Morning broadcast. His slow-paced, anachronistic style works well in bringing the story of Lincoln's pre-Civil War era invention for an America that traveled by river to life, where we do recommend clicking through to view it.

From the Inventions in Everything Archives

There aren't any other inventions by those who became U.S. Presidents, but the IIE team has previously covered the following seaworthy inventions:

Inventions in Everything: A Five-in-One Kitchen Multitasker

Kitchen gadgets. If there's one thing all the members of the IIE team have learned over the years, it's that we each have far too many gadgets in our kitchens that only do one thing.

It's no wonder then that the opportunity to combine individual kitchen gadgets into multitaskers to cut down on kitchen clutter presents such an opportunity to inventors. Today's featured patented invention happens to be the earliest device we've found that integrates five separate gadgets into one kitchen multitasker. It's just not any of the five gadgets any of the IIE team would ever have guessed would be combined and officially documented via a U.S. patent!

Meet the subject of the invention for which Canadian electrician Robert Martin Gardiner was assigned U.S. Patent 586,025 in 1897: the Combined Grocer's Package, Grater, Slicer, and Mouse and Fly Trap.

U.S. Patent 586,025 Figures 1 through 5

Each of these figures corresponds to one of the invention's proposed uses, which we've excerpted from the text of the patent:

  • Figure 1: A grocer's package or box with feet attached to one end.
  • Figure 2: A similar figure, with the opposite side constructed as a grater.
  • Figure 3: The same constructed as a slicer.
  • Figure 4: The same as a mouse-trap.
  • Figure 5: The body with vertical feet at one end, preparatory to using it as a fly-trap.

In concept, Gardiner's innovation is to retask a "grocer's package" (or rather, a sheet metal can) for other uses after its primary purpose of holding its original contents has been completed. That's something that becomes a lot more significant when you realize the invention is the result of pre-20th century brainstorming for how to recycle a can. Which becomes more impressive when you realize the concept of brainstorming itself didn't exist as we know it until 1941!

This is the kind of invention the IIE team loves to discover, because there's a lot more in it than what the inventors themselves often realize!

From the Inventions in Everything Archives

The IIE team has previously covered the following inventions for things you might find, whether today or someday, in your kitchen:

Inventions in Everything: The Bicycle Sleigh

It's January, which means the airwaves are cluttered once more with advertisements for weight loss programs and physical fitness equipment. But in much of the world, icy and snowy winter weather makes it difficult for those suddenly obsessed with weight loss to go outside to pursue the physical activities they're counting on to fit back into the clothes they wore before the holidays. If only there was a patented invention that could help!

You're in luck, because not only is there such an invention, it's 101 years old! Inventor Tom Doroszuk was issued U.S. Patent 1,324,342 for his innovation combining bicycle technology with sleigh technology to produce the Bicycle Sleigh:

U.S. Patent 1,324,342 Figures 1 and 2

Doroszuk's invention merges a bicycle frame onto a larger structure supported on a tricycle of skis. When the rider peddles the bicycle sleigh, it turns a paddlewheel mounted in place of the rear bicycle to provide propulsion on snow-or-ice-covered surfaces. So not only can you can you get exercise on the Bicycle Sleigh, you can get to where you're going when the roads are covered with snow and ice!

Or rather, you could theoretically get exercise and get to where you're going, if only the Bicycle Sleigh existed in today's world. We couldn't find so much as a single TikTok or YouTube influencer willing to bring their version of the now public domain-invention to life.

We did however find the next closest thing: ski bikes, which are really a thing, if only useful for going downhill!

Time will tell if the 21st century see a bicycle sleigh revival.

Inventions in Everything: The Archives

But wait, there's so much more! Our archives, now fully updated through 2021, celebrate inventions ranging from the whimsical to the inspired in reverse chronological order!

Improving the Star Wars Holiday Special

The year was 1978. Americans were suffering under the weak leadership of an ineffective president. Inflation was running hot and about to get much worse. And then, as if to put an exclamation point on just how bad things were getting, one of the three broadcast television networks that existed at the time aired The Star Wars Holiday Special.

It's difficult to describe just how crushingly bad this entertainment event was. The year before, the movie Star Wars (as it was popularly known at the time, today it goes by "Star Wars: Epsiode IV - A New Hope") had been a spectacular success, providing a beacon of light in the gathering gloom of the era's popular entertainment. By contrast, The Star Wars Holiday Special has been described as a "cosmic catastrophe" and "infamously terrible". No wonder Star Wars producer George Lucas and the stars of the movies worked hard to bury the memory of the special in the decades since.

But some Star Wars fans, being who they are, couldn't let it go. Not only did they remember it existed, some have worked to improve it in a campaign to bring it back. One fan has even gone so far as to create a two minute 4K video trailer for The Star Wars Holiday Special, employing AI and machine learning to improve a portion of the viewing experience.

The trailer only hints at the badness to which Americans were subjected in 1978. To get the full experience, we need to turn another effort to improve the watchability of The Star Wars Holiday Special, put together by Rifftrax.

If you don't think the jokes in the added soundtrack are an improvement, try watching the special without them. You'll soon see why President Jimmy Carter was sermonizing about malaise to Americans just a matter of months later.

We'll agree with CNet's Gael Fashingbauer Cooper that the best part of the improved viewing experience are the vintage ads.

Previously on Political Calculations

Since we're on the verge of the holiday season, here's a sampling of how we've celebrated the time of year in years past.

And for Star Wars fans, do have a happy Life Day!

Using Game Theory to Find Extraterrestrials Less Wastefully

Is Anybody Out There? - Source: Lanma the Shark via Unsplash -

SETI, the Search for Extraterrestial Intelligence, has its roots in late 1959 and early 1960, when astronomer Frank Drake began reviewing data from radio telescopes to see if he could locate intelligent alien life by detecting their transmissions.

Over sixty years later, a privately funded SETI project, Breakthrough Listen, promises to spend some $10 million per year for the next 10 years, or $100 million altogether. The project aims to buy time on radio telescopes in West Virginia and in Australia to survey the one million stars nearest Earth as well as 100 nearby galaxies for signs of life.

But according to game theory, virtually all of that time and money will be wasted. Here's why:

If advanced alien civilisations exist in our galaxy and are trying to communicate with us, what's the best way to find them? This is the grand challenge for astronomers engaged in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). A new paper published in The Astronomical Journal by Jodrell Bank astrophysicist, Dr. Eamonn Kerins, proposes a new strategy based on game theory that could tip the odds of finding them more in our favor.

SETI programs tend to use one of two approaches. One is to conduct a survey that sweeps large areas of sky in the hope of seeing a signal from somewhere. This survey approach can quickly generate huge volumes of data that can be very hard to search through comprehensively. An alternative approach is targeted SETI, where the search focuses more intensively on specific star systems where life might exist. This provides more comprehensive data on those systems, but maybe there's nobody there?

Dr. Kerins proposes the use game theory: "In game theory there are a class of games known as coordination games involving two players who have to cooperate to win but who cannot communicate with each other. When we engage in SETI we, and any civilisation out there trying to find us, are playing exactly this kind of game. So, if both we and they want to make contact, both of us can look to game theory to develop the best strategy."

Dr. Kerins dubs his idea "Mutual Detectability." It states that the best places to look for signals are planets from which we would be capable of determining that Earth itself may be inhabited.

Kerins describes which of those systems would be the best for SETI searches to concentrate their resources in his paper's abstract:

Surveys of the Earth Transit Zone for Earth-analog transiting planets around subsolar luminosity hosts would facilitate targeted SETI programs for civilizations who have game-theory incentive to transmit signals to us.

Translating from Astronomerese to English, Kerins recommends focusing on places where Earth-like planets could be found orbiting stars that are dimmer than the Sun. In focusing on this subset of the millions of stars that would otherwise be searched, the probability that we could successfully detect alien scientists seeking to contact other intelligent life in the universe would be greatly increased over that resulting from the approach planned for the Breakthrough Listen project.

Whether seeking intelligent extraterrestrial life might carry high risks remains to be determined. In any case, we think that anyone going out looking for extraterrestrials ought to do it with the least amount of wasted effort and money.


Eamonn Kerins. Mutual Detectability: A Targeted SETI Strategy That Avoids the SETI Paradox, The Astronomical Journal (2020). DOI: 10.3847/1538-3881/abcc5f.

Image Credit: Photo by Lamna The Shark on Unsplash.