PATENT FILES HOLD MARK TWAIN STORY
Believed to Be Only One He Swore To as Being True It Is Based on Vest Strap
DATA OFFERED IN CONTEST
They Tell How He Invented an Elastic Belt to Tighten Garment at the Waist
Special to The New York Times.
WASHINGTON, March 11. - A short story by Mark Twain, hitherto unpublished, to which might be given the title "How I Made My First Invention," has just come to light here in documents recently discovered in Patent Office files. It is probably the only story the famous humorist wrote which was supported by an affidavit to its truthfulness.
What led Mark Twain to write the story was his invention of a vest strap, on which he filed an application for a patent on Sept. 9, 1871. It was the usual strap placed at the back of a vest for tightening the garment around the waist and the invention itself was intended to make the strap elastic, detachable and adjustable in length. It fastened to the garment with buttons and buttonholes and could be removed when desired and used with pants and even ladies' corsets.
But Mark Twain's application ran into difficulties, the documents reveal. Somebody else, one Henry C. Lockwood of Baltimore, Md., had thought of the identical invention and had also filed an application for a patent. Before the Patent Office could grant a patent to either inventor it had to institute an "interference," a contest to determine who made the invention first.
The Commissioner of Patents notified both Mark Twain and Mr. Lockwood of the interference, and the next step for each was to file a paper called a "preliminary statement," in which each was to set forth the essential dates and facts relating to the making of the invention.
Replied in Short Story
Instead of filing a bare formal recital in numbered paragraphs, as is the usual practice, Mark Twain wrote a short story which must have been a welcome change to Patent Office officials. It is dated Hartford, Conn., Oct. 6, 1871, and is addressed to "Hon. M. D. Leggett, Com'r of Patents, Washington." Written by hand on plain correspondence paper, the newly discovered original reads as follows:
"Concerning Mark Twain's Elastic Strap.
"The idea of contriving an improved vest strap is old with me; but the actual accomplishment of the idea is no older than the 13th of August last (to the best of my memory). This remark is added after comparing notes with my brother.
"For four or five years I turned the idea of such a contrivance over in my mind at times, without a successful conclusion; but on the 13th of August last, as I lay in bed, I thought of it again, & then I said I would ease my mind and invent that strap before I got up - probably the only prophecy I ever made that was worth its face.
"An elastic strap suggested itself & I got up satisfied. While I dressed, it occurred to me that in order to be efficient, the strap must be adjustable & detachable, when the wearer did not wish it to be permanent. So I devised the plan of having two or three buttonholes in each end of the strap, & buttoning it to the garment - whereby it could be shortened or removed at pleasure. So I sat down & drew the first of the accompanying diagrams (they are the original ones).
"While washing (these details seem a little trivial, I grant, but they are history & therefore in some degree respect-worthy), it occurred to me that the strap would do for pantaloons also, & I drew diagram No. 2.
"After breakfast I called on my brother, Orion Clemens, the editor of the 'American Publisher,' showed him my diagrams & explained them, & asked him to note the date & the circumstances in his note-book for future reference. (I shall get that note of his & enclose it, so that it may make a part of this sworn evidence.) While talking with him it occurred to me that this invention would apply to ladies' stays, & I then sketched diagram No. 3.
"In succeeding days I devised the applying of the strap to shirts, drawers, &c., & when about to repair to Washington to apply for a patent, was peremptorily called home by sickness in my family. The moment I could be spared, however, I went to Washington & made application - about the 10th or 12th of September, ult., I think. I believe these comprise all the facts in the case.
"Saml L. Clemens"
Author Won the Patent
The interference did not pursue a complicated course, however, for in the next paper filed in the Patent Office the attorneys agreed to settle the matter according to the dates on which the applications were filed in the Patent Office. Mark Twain's date being earlier, he was granted a patent, No. 122,992, on Dec. 19, 1871.
The discovery of Mark Twain's story is told in an article appearing in the current issue of the Journal of the Patent Office Society. The article also reveals that Mark Twain received two other patents during is lifetime - one for a self-pasting scrapbook (No. 140,245), granted in 1873, which proved quite commercially profitable, and another for a game which was to make it easier for players to remember historical dates (No. 324,535), granted to him in 1885.
"So," the Journal article says, "Mark Twain can be called an inventor, not a great inventor, it is true, but one of those who dream of making a fortune from some bright idea and never quite achieve it, except perhaps in a modest manner."
Mark Twain, it is indicated, lost huge sums of money and had many unhappy experiences in financing the inventions of others. As a result of his unfortunate investments he became bitter toward inventors.
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