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Greenville & Hockessin Life

Hagley now has world’s largest private collection of patent models

Feb 08, 2016 11:49AM ● By J. Chambless

Door Fastening & Alarm, Patent #84362 1868 A.F. Kitchen Shelton Depot, SC

A major acquisition means that Hagley Museum and Library now hosts the world’s largest private collection of American patent models.

“These models fit perfectly into Hagley’s vision of becoming a place where innovation inspires and imaginations run wild,” said David A. Cole, Jr., Hagley’s executive director. “At Hagley, these models will be used to inspire the innovator in everyone.”

The Rothschild Patent Model Collection of 4,048 one-of-a-kind models – going alphabetically from an adjustable pillow sham to a wrestling toy – builds upon 849 patent models already at Hagley.

The U.S. patent system was an integral part of the formative years of America and led to its success as an industrial giant. From 1790 to 1880, the U.S. Patent Office required inventors – who come from all walks of life – to submit these models as part of the patent process. The process was considered so important that until 1836, every patent issued was signed by the president of the United States. The Rothschild collection is complemented by certificates signed by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

The U.S. system was the only one in the world to require models, and it is estimated that more than 100,000 people a year saw models of the latest and greatest inventions, displayed in patent office galleries. In 1836 and 1877 two catastrophic fires destroyed the majority of the existing models.

The government revoked the model requirement in 1880 and in 1893 removed the models from the patent office and placed them in storage. By 1925, the government no longer wanted to pay to store the models, and America’s unique invention heritage went on the auction block. Some were returned to descendants of the inventors; 3,500 were placed at the Smithsonian, and the rest were sold.

Alan Rothschild established the Rothschild Petersen Patent Model Museum in 1998.

For more information, call 302-658-2400 weekdays or visit

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