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From 1790 until 1870, U.S. patent law required inventors to submit actual physical models of their novel machines along with their drawings and descriptions.

These miniature testaments to innovation — “not more than twelve inches square … neatly made” — are the subject of a new exhibition at Harvard University, Patent Republic.

The display draws on the collection of Susan Glendening, a New York psychoanalyst by day and fervent collector by night. Seventy-five of her models are on display in Cambridge.

Below are four models. Take the test. Can you tell what they do?

Invention A:

Invention B:

Invention C:

Invention D:


A = “Apparatus For Physical Culture” was a predecessor to the Bowflex and pulley-driven weight lifting machines.

B = The fringemaker pictured is rare among patent models in that it actually works. (The plastic spools are not from the original.)

C = You couldn’t always change the incline of your bed with a remote control. This pillow support was adjusted by a simple thumb screw.

D = This machine for cutting lozenges is hand painted. According to the patent, the machine will allow for the manufacture of “the flat pieces of confectionery known in the trade as ‘lozenges,” with “exactness and rapidity.”

Photos by Susan M. E. Glendening.

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Originally posted by Rich Whittle on November 6, 2013 in History / Inventions.


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