On a Patent Clerk

Having some experience in public administration, I can appreciate working in a government job like a patent office. Wouldn’t it be amazing to see new ideas, creative inventions, and even (especially) the wacky or offbeat patent application come across your desk? One such clerk in the Bern, Switzerland, patent office did not share this interest or excitement for his job.

No, he wanted to be a teacher. Instead, he had a wife and family to support, so he took the only job he could get. During his almost seven years in the Bern patent office, he did a great deal of thinking and writing about his academic concepts. Meanwhile, the applications continued to come across his desk, and he had to process them as they did.

One of the inventions was interesting for the first decade of the 1900s. It was the proposal to send the time across telephone wires. The concept, at least, sounds a bit like sending all other information electronically, a thing we take for granted today. But this clerk paid the ideas that cross his desk little attention despite how interesting they may be to us. No, he was interested in maybe pursuing his own patents, perhaps.

In 1905, the 26 year old patent clerk decided to use the time at work to further his own ends. He managed to formulate his ideas and write papers that would change the world one day, he believed. Meanwhile, the applications for patents began piling up on his desk.

Now, to be completely fair to our patent clerk, his uncle, a man named Jacob, had a small reputation as an inventor himself. The uncle came up with one of the best methods for measuring electrical usage–the power meter. He also increased the efficiency of the electric arc lamp, and he improved the mechanism of a spring-loaded friction wheel. One of those patent applications was made in that very patent office. So, to be someone who wanted not to process patent paperwork but rather create the ideas and items that would themselves be patented certainly ran in the family.

Eventually, the papers the clerk published got him noticed, and he was able to leave the prison of the patent office desk behind him. He was able, in fact, to achieve over 50 patents in his lifetime. Among them were a better refrigerator, a self-adjusting camera, a new type of women’s blouse, and more efficient compressor. Those alone would have provided most people with the satisfaction of being known as an inventor, right?

However, those inventions and patents are not really what we remember Albert Einstein for, are they?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s