Copy of the first U.S. patent issued and signed by George Washington in 1790. The patent grant you see reproduced above was the first one issued by the United States, to Samuel Hopkins of Pittsford, Vermont on July 31, 1790. The patent was signed by President George Washington, as well as Attorney General Edmund Randolph and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson.
The Hopkins patent was for an “Improvement, not known before such Discovery, in the making of Pot ash and Pearl ash by a new apparatus and Process”, and was granted for a term of fourteen years. The name potash refers to several potassium salts, mild alkalis, which were derived from the ashes of timber or other plants. It was also known in a caustic form when mixed with lime. In reacting with fats or oils, potash produced a soft soap. It was an essential ingredient in the manufacture of glass, alum (salts of aluminum, used chiefly in medicine), and saltpeter (an important ingredient in gun powder). Potash also played an important role in bleaching, mining, metallurgy, and other industrial interests. Its many applications served as an indication of the emerging chemical industry in the nineteenth century. In the summer of 1956, the Vermont Historic Sites Commission erected a marker at the former residence of Samuel Hopkins. The original patent granted to him still exists in the collections of the Chicago Historical Society. Two other patents were granted that year: one for a special process of making candles and one for improved flour milling machinery.