Thomas Ewbank 1849-1852

Thomas Ewbank, third Commissioner of Patents, was born of humble parentage in Durham, England, March 11, 1792. He was apprenticed in boyhood to the trade of sheet metal working; and from 1812 to 1817 was employed as a tin-smith in London. There he developed the belief that monarchical institutions limited ones capabilities, and so he emigrated to the United States in 1819 and settled in New York. He then engaged in the manufacture of copper, lead and tin tubing for sixteen years and obtained patents thereon. Having attained a modest competency from the business of tube making, he devoted his entire attention in the next few years to travel, science, literature, the history of invention, and its future development. In 1845-48, he visited South America, not merely as a pleasure seeking traveler, but with a mind alert to the lessons to be learned from a wider experience of natural phenomena and the industrial arts of remote races. He returned with a collection of objects from Brazil that became widely known as the "Ewbank Collection." The lessons of this voyage were subsequently published in a volume entitled "Life in Brazil: A Journal of a Visit to the Land of the Cocoa and the Palm."

In 1849 President Taylor appointed him Commissioner of Patents. He assumed office under Secretary Thomas Ewing (Commissioner Ewing’s godfather), May 4, 1849,  and retained it until November 1, 1852. At the beginning of his administration the new Commissioner addressed letters to the governors of all the states requesting them to send to the Patent Office any historical data of early inventions and patents preserved in State and Colonial archives, which request brought forth some very interesting history of the industrial arts, all of which was published in the Patent Office Reports.

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