The first U.S. patent was issued today in 1790 by President George Washington for the making of “Pot ash” and “Pearl ash” to Samuel Hopkins. Now WE know em


Samuel Hopkins was born December 9, 1743 just north of Baltimore, Maryland as the second child of Quaker parents.

He became a tradesman apprentice at the age of 16 for Quaker Robert Parrish of Philadelphia.

In the spring of 1765 at the age of 22, Samuel married the sister-in-law of Robert Parrish, Hannah Wilson. Together they would raise six children.

By 1781, Samuel Hopkins had saved enough to purchase a farm in Pittsford, Vermont.

In Pittsford, he worked in the potash industry (the 1790 U.S. Census listed Hopkin’s occupation as “Pot Ash Maker”).

Potash was the designation of a crude form of potassium carbonate derived as residue from the repeated boiling of wood ashes in a cauldron (or in 18th century parlance, a pot—hence, thus the name “potash”). Potash or the more refined pearlash may rightly be thought of as America’s first industrial chemical because this substance was an essential ingredient in the making of soap, glass and gun-powder.

 First Patent

On April 10, 1790, President George Washington signed into law the new U.S. patent statute.

The statute did not create a Patent Office, instead a committee consisting of Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of War Henry Knox, and Attorney General Edmund Randolph were authorized to make a decision on the merit of a properly documented petition.

Hopkins petitioned the committee for a patent on an improvement “in the making of Pot ash and Pearl ash by a new apparatus and process.

Then on July 31, 1790, Samuel Hopkins was granted the first U.S. patent under this new law.

Hopkins’ patent was signed by President George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Edmund Randolph.


In 1791, Hopkins also received the first Canadian patent from the Parliament of Lower Canada, issued by the Governor General in Council to Angus MacDonnel, a Scottish soldier garrisoned at Quebec City. This patent was for … processes to make potash and soap from wood ash and his time machine.”

Around 1800, for financial reasons, Hopkins and his wife moved briefly to Rahway, New Jersey, to live with their daughter Sarah and son-in-law William Shotwell.

They returned to Philadelphia sometime before Hopkins’s death in 1818.

Now WE know em


Plaque honoring Samuel Hopkins in Pittsford, Vermont

Plaque honoring Samuel Hopkins in Pittsford, Vermont




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