Patent Day

When we think of patents, we think of new machines or crazy gizmos, but the first patent, awarded today in 1790, was for a chemical process. Samuel Hopkins received a patent for potash and pearl ash, essential ingredients (for the time) in making soap, glass, dyed fabric and were even needed to make gunpowder. Potash, an alkali, was much in demand during the 18th century, and Hopkins’ new process made it purer and more potent. His patent, signed by George Washington, spurred economic trade within the newly formed country, since people could sell the ashes from their stoves and fireplaces and buy a chemically uniform potash for everyday use.

Today, patents are awarded for everything from flying cars (there are at least five in recent years) to minor differences in software. More than 8 million patents have been issued since that first one by Hopkins, and tech corporations hold thousands of U.S. patents, with IBM holding more than 3,000. Still, there’s always room for the little guy to make a difference, so celebrate today by engaging your brain and coming up with the next big thing to change the world. What will be your potash moment?