Abe Lincoln's patent for a river navigation device

Looking back: On March 10, 1849, the future president filed a patent application for his imaginative method of "Buoying Vessels Over Shoals."

In 1849, Abraham Lincoln received U.S. Patent No. 6469 for his invention meant to help riverboats clear obstructions.

On March 10, 1849, eight score and four years ago yesterday, a future president brought forth on this continent a new notion for improving river navigation.

That was the day Abraham Lincoln filed a patent application for his imaginative method of "Buoying Vessels Over Shoals."

The cover of a March 1924 issue of Popular Mechanics detailing Abraham Lincoln's invention. CBS News

At age 22, Lincoln had been a crewman on a flatboat that got stuck on a dam at New Salem, Ill., a bit of Lincoln folklore depicted in the 1940 film "Abe Lincoln in Illinois," with Raymond Massey in the starring role.

After another riverboat grounding incident in 1848 when he was serving as a congressman, Lincoln got to work.

As his law partner William Herndon later wrote: "Continual thinking on the subject of lifting vessels over sand bars and other obstructions in the water suggested to him the idea of inventing an apparatus for this purpose."

And so the next year came Lincoln's solution: a ship equipped with chambers along the side that could be lowered into the water and inflated like balloons to lift the vessel over the obstruction.

Just two months after filing his application, Lincoln received approval, making him the only U.S. president ever to have received a patent.

Sadly, however, even Herndon thought the whole contraption to be impractical. And in the end, the only one ever built was Lincoln's scale model, which now sits in the Smithsonian Institution... high and dry.

This story originally appeared on "CBS Sunday Morning."

 

ARTICLE DISCUSSION

Conversation powered by Livefyre

Don't Miss
Hot Products
Trending on CNET

Hot on CNET

CNET's giving away a 3D printer

Enter for a chance to win* the MakerBot Replicator 3D Printer and all the supplies you need to get started.