The history of innovation has many crazy tales – the patent office is involved in many. In 1836 the first U.S. patent office burned to the ground: despite all the great ideas in the building, they didn’t get around to fireproofing the building itself (An ivory tower lesson if ever there was one).
Anyway, the fist 10,000 or so U.S. Patents were lost in the fire – about 2000 were recovered but the rest were lost.
After the fire the Patent office began its numerical numbering system (giving up on the prior name and date system) – U.S. Patent #1 was granted to Senator John Ruggle of Maine.
The invention? Comically enough, a reinvention of the wheel. Ruggle designed a new train wheel that yielded more traction and prevented sliding.
The true first U.S. patent was for pot ash (no, not that kind) and granted in 1790. However patents in Europe date back hundreds of years earlier – but that’s another story.