U.S. Patent No. 6,333,083, on Foldable Artificial Christmas Tree is one of the few Christmas related patents that actually issued on Christmas. Since 1848, patents only issue on Tuesdays, and thus a Christmas Day Christmas patent only occurs when Christmas falls on a Tuesday. From 1850-1880, the Patent Office missed a few Tuesdays — those that fell on Christmas. Since then the Patent Office has not missed a Christmas, but they did miss a few Tuesdays during WWII in 1945, and a Tuesday in 1970 during a change in patent printing systems.
Patents have issued on Christmas in 1888, 1894, 1900, 1906, 1917, 1923, 1934, 1945, 1951, 1956, 1962, 1973, 1979, 1984, 1990, 2001, 2007, 2012, 2018, and the next batch of Christmas patents will issue in 2029.
There are more than 20000 patents that relate to or at least mention Christmas, but only one that mentions all of the gifts in the 1780 song The Twelve Days of Christmas: U.S. Patent No. 3,867,237, issued in 1972 on a Pear Tree Decoration . The pear tree has detachable branches and twelve numbered packages containing artificial miniature items corresponding to the items referred to in the Christmas carol.
The patent explains that:
The twelve days of Christmas start tomorrow, and run until the Epiphany on January 6. However, the ‘237 Patent suggests a different timing: “It is intended that the package No. 1 containing the pears and partridge will be opened on December l3. The package No. 2 will be opened on December 14th. The package No. 3 will be opened on December 15th, and so on with another package opened each day in numbered succession so that the package No. 12 will be opened on the 12th day after starting on December 13th. The kit invention 20 designed principally for the entertainment of children, with young children particularly enjoying the excitement of each day placing a new set of decorations or items in the package 30 onto the pear tree 21, starting on December l3th and ending on December 24th, Christmas Eve.
Patents are about solutions to problems, and the patent collection contains an interesting history of solving the problems with Christmas Tree Illumination. From 1867 unitl the advent of electric Christmas lights, a surprising amount of effort was devoted to making candles safe for Christmas trees:
U.S. Patent No. 286572 (1883) Candle Holder for Christmas Trees.
U.S. Patent No. 373958 (1887) Lamp for Decorating and Illuminating Purposes
The U.S. patent collection is a fabulous record of the history of innovation in the United States, and the rest of the world. But in recording the history of technology, that patent collection also captures glimpses of the broader history of society.
So, before December 7, 1941, there are several references to Pearl Harbor (in the Territory of Hawaii), but always as a place (the address of an inventor). See, for example, U.S. Patent No. US1677261, US1854268, and US2234109. After December 7, 1941, “Pearl Harbor” took on a new meaning as an event, rather than simply a place, reflecting the horrific events of that day, For example US2401521, filed in 1944, on a bomb site, references the “disaster” are Pearl Harbor:
US2471496 filed in 1945 on reclaiming scrap of natural rubber mixed with buna-s, references Pearl Harbor:
US2484051 refers to Pearl Harbor as a point of geographic and historical interest:
US6022637 identified the filing date of a prior art patent with reffe Eleven days after Pearl Harbor (Dec. 18, 1941), Bert Adams applied for a patent on his battery
US8584226 references Pearl Harbor, showing its impact
US8521512 even identifies Pearl Harbor as a “concept”:
US10300779 refers to a possible digital “Pearl Harbor” event:
It is interesting to hear the echo of historical events in the timeline of technology that is the USPTO patent collection.
December 6 is the anniversary of the completion of the Washington Monument. On December 6, 1884, in workers place a nine-inch, 100 ounce, aluminum pyramid inscribed “Laus Deo” (“praise be to God”), on top of the white marble obelisk, completing the monument to the country’s founding father and first president, George Washington.
Why aluminum? Because at the time aluminum was considered a precious metal, with a price comparable to silver ($1 per ounce vs, $1.18 per ounce for silver). The process of extracting aluminum was difficult and expensive. An acquaintance of Abraham Lincoln, William Frishmuth, who patented an improvement to the process on August 7, 1883 (U.S. Patent No. 282622) was commissioned to provide the aluminum and cast the pyramid. The completed pyramid was even displayed at Tiffany’s prior to its installation (see above).
Unfortunately for Frishmuth, On April 2, 1889, Charles Martin Hall patented (U.S. Patent No. 400,666) a much easier and less expensive method for the production of aluminum, which brought the metal into wide commercial use. Hall’s patent interfered with that of Paul Heroult who independently developed the same process at almost the same time. Hall was able to prove priority, and received the patent instead of Heroult.
In 1888 Hall and others founded the Pittsburgh Reduction Company now known as the Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA). By 1914 the cost of aluminum had dropped to 18 cents a pound, and eventually become the stuff of screen doors and soda cans, rather than monuments.
Another inventor Karl Joseph Bayer, an Austrian chemist, developed another process for obtaining aluminum from bauxite about the same time. Hall’s and Bayer’s methods are still used today to produce virtually all of the world’s aluminum.
In a sad post script and reminder that the march of technology can be disruptive, Frishmuth, having lost his monopoly on the production of aluminum, killed himself in his Philadelphia apartment in 1893.
Every year growing up a favorite aunt would send us a paper Advent calendar to help us count down the days until Christmas (and her holiday visit). When I eventually had a family of my own, we purchased a wooden box with 25 little doors, and had fun filling it with little toys and candies for our children to open each day.
As much fun as we have had with Advent calendars, I really shouldn’t have been surprised at the wide variety of forms that these calendars take in the U.S. patent collection, but I was and perhaps you will be too.