U.S. Patent Office

15 December 1836 Fire


Publication: The Niles' Weekly Register

Baltimore, MD, United States
vol. 51, no. 1316, p. 1, col. 1



It is our painful duty to state that the general post office, the patent office, and the city post office were entirely consumed by fire on Thursday morning last. The particulars of this distressing calamity are detailed in the account from the "Intelligencer" of yesterday morning inserted in a subsequent page, and must excite the most painful emotions in the public mind for the loss sustained cannot be repaired and will be severely felt by individuals especially from the destruction of the patent office, by which the fruits of the genius of our countrymen, that have been accumulating for nearly half a century, have been reduced to ashes. In the present confused state of the affairs of the general post office department, the real extent of the loss it has sustained cannot be ascertained but it is said that all the books, contracts, &c. have been saved. All the letters, mails, and money of the city post office were, however, destroyed Fortunately the large mails had been sent off before the fire broke out and escaped the general destruction, but all the letters received on the evening previous for delivery in the city, were destroyed.

The origin of this disaster is still shrouded in mystery, but, as will be seen by an abstract of the proceedings, is to undergo an investigation by congress. There are some things, however, in connection with it, apparent from the accounts before us, that call for the indignant censure of the country we mean the criminal tardiness in spreading the alarm and the slothful efforts to repress the flame and rescue the public property For it appears that nearly half an hour!!! elapsed before the alarm bells were rung, and more than half that time before an engine or a bucket of water could be commanded. With the same difficulties in procuring water that the Washington firemen had to contend with, the Baltimore firemen could have drawn their engines three miles through the mud, not McAdamised roads as smooth as a bowling green, and placed them in active operation.

One benefit will result from this conflagration. It will ensure the erection of permanent fireproof buildings for all public offices, and no longer place the public records and archives in jeopardy from a similar disaster. The new building for the treasury department, in lieu of the old one destroyed in 1833, is, as far as it has progressed, built in the most substantial manner, and will be completely fire proof. According to the Alexandria Gazette, the foundation for the entire extent of the building, which is 460 feet in length, including the western projection, is laid. The front range of the rooms is brought up to the springing line of the groin arches, several of which are turned, and laid in hydraulic cement, and the cut granite, facing on the west front, made up as high as the window seats. A large quantity of materials, granite, freestone, cut and in the rough, brick, lime and mortar, is collected on the spot, and roomy shops are provided for the workers to cut and dress the stone during the winter, so that no time may be lost in progressing with the building in due season.

The foundation for the new patent office, intended for the reception of the models, &c, which are now a heap of ruins, is now also laid, and the granite facings on both fronts, built up to the basement story. The building will be 270 feet in length and 69 feet deep, and like the building intended for the treasury department, will be fire proof. Both fronts are faced with split granite laid in regular courses with dressed joints. The material of which the body of the building will be composed has not been decided on but the portico, the proportions of which are exactly those of the Parthenon, at Athens, will involve a large portion of the whole expense.


Keywords:Fire : Patent Office
Researcher notes:This article is an editorial from the Niles' Weekly Register. All original patent documents prior to this date were destroyed. Some few have been partially reconstructed from court documents found here and there. The connection to insulators is that the first patents for glass presses were destroyed in the fire. For instance, the Enoch Robinson patent of 1827 was lost.
Supplemental information:For a first-hand account of the fire see Article: 12660. The report of the Congressional Inquiry may be seen at Article: 12667.
Researcher:Glenn Drummond
Date completed:August 8, 2011 by: Glenn Drummond;