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Lincoln, Wilson, and Brandeis; The Golden Thread of Invention
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Lincoln, Wilson and Brandeis; The Golden Thread of Invention


   Most patent attorneys are aware that Lincoln was an inventor, having authored U.S. patent number 6,469, directed to a bellows-like device on a ship plying inland waterways to decrease the difficulty of traversing rapids.[1]


   Carl Sandberg, of course, has the most lyric description of Lincoln’s conception of his invention[2]:


      “On a trip back East, mostly for ‘politickin,’ Lincoln spoke on the same

      bill as William H. Seward, Governor of New York, at Boston’s Tremont



     “At Albany he stopped off and talked with Thurlow Weed, the Whig boss

     of New York; they went out and visited Millard Fillmore, the Whig

     candidate for Vice President.  He rode on the Erie Canal to Buffalo, visited

     Niagra Falls, went down to Lake Erie, and overland to Chicago and


        “After visiting his family, his law partner [William H. Herndon], and


    he turned his law-office corner into a shop where he whittled on a wooden

    model of a steamboat with ‘expansible buoyant chambers  sliding  spars,  and ropes and pulleys.’  It was an invention, he told Herndon, and was going to work a revolution in steamboat navigation.  On the way home from Niagra Falls, the steamboat he was on got stuck on a sandbar; the captain ordered barrels, boxes, and empty casks forced under the vessel; they lifted the vessel off the sandbar with their ‘expansible buoyant chambers.’  So Lincoln finished off a model, and wrote a description of its workings, all to be patented.”


   A golden thread gently binds Lincoln, Wilson, and Louis Dembitz Brandeis.  It is the golden thread of invention.


   Louis D. Brandeis (1856-1941) served on the U.S. Supreme Court from 1916 to 1939.  A member of the Massachusetts bar, he was a Democrat in private practice when appointed.  He served as counsel for variously: the government, industry, and “for the people” in numerous administrative and judicial proceedings, both state and federal.[3]


   Brandeis, according to Richard M. Abrams[4] “contributed the first serious challenge to the major rationale of the consolidation movement,” that is, the antitrust movement in the progressive era.  Brandeis quoted Woodrow Wilson in a series of articles for Harper’s Magazine in 1913, which were subsequently brought together in book form as OTHER PEOPLE’S MONEY and how the Bankers use it.


   Chapter 1 “OUR FINANCIAL OLIGARCHY” starts as follows:


   “President Wilson, when governor, declared in 1911


       ‘The great monopoly in this country is the money monopoly.  So long as that exists, our old variety and freedom and individual energy of development are out of the question.’”

The final chapter concludes:


      “President Wilson has wisely said:”


      “’No country can afford to have its prosperity originated by a small controlling class.  The treasury of America does not lie in the brains of the small body of men now in control of the great enterprises…It depends upon the inventions of unknown men, upon the originations of unknown men, upon the ambitions of unknown men.’”


   Belying the adage that a prophet is without honor in his own land, Brandeis had prophetically been catapulted from a relatively obscure radical lawyer into the highest echelon of public office in the land with his appointment to the Supreme Court of the United States by President Woodrow Wilson in 1914.  Upon his confirmation after a bitter battle in the Senate, Louis D. Brandeis became a legendary figure in American social, political and legal history.


[1] See AIPLA Bulletin, January-February 1996 for some interesting material not readily available elsewhere, as well as OG May 22, 1849 available on the floor of the main USPTO Search Room.

[2] Sandberg, Carl, Abraham Lincoln, The Prairie Years, Vol. 1 Harcourt Brace & World, NY 1926, at p. 401.

[3] Lockart, Kamisar & Choper, “Constitutional Law” Appendix A[4] West Publishing, 1964.

[4] Brandeis, Louis D. OTHER PEOPLE’S MONEY and How the Bankers Use It, Ed. Richard M. Abrams, Harper Torchbooks, NY 1967.

Article by Arthur P. Gershman