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James Madison Signed Presidential Patent
for Pendulum Pumps
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President James Madison issued this patent to Atkinson Farra of Pennsylvania. This double-bored wooden pump was operated by a pendulum handle, which caused the “suckers in each cylinder to play alternately; by operation of which the water flows without intermission.” Farra adds, “If it be necessary (as it may be in ships) to increase the force this may be done by adding another handle to be worked on the opposite side; it is also suggested by the inventor that the rods may be worked by mechanisms similar to a Clock.”

JAMES MADISON. Document Signed as President, issued to Atkinson Farra, Patent for a double-bored pendulum pump. Washington, December 5, 1809. Co-signed by Robert Smith as Secretary of State. 1 p plus inventor’s 2 pp. description affixed by thin silk ribbon. 11½ x 14½ in.

Inventory #24025.03       Price: $2,500

James Madison (1751-1836) was the fourth President of the United States (1809-1817). Born in Port Conway, Virginia, Madison studied at Princeton University, entered politics in 1776, and played a major role in the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Madison was the principal architect of the U.S. Constitution and, along with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, authored The Federalist, which helped to promote its ratification. He was later referred to as the “Father of the Constitution.” Madison helped found Thomas Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican Party in opposition to the financial proposals of Hamilton. He also served as Jefferson’s Secretary of State (1801-1809). Madison’s presidency (as well as his tenure as Secretary of State) witnessed the culmination of Anglo-American tensions that resulted in the War of 1812.

Atkinson Farra (1761-1826) was a pumpmaker in Norristown, Pennsylvania, northwest of Philadelphia. He and his wife were Quakers and worshiped at the Friends Meeting at Plymouth Meeting.


Light cockling, minor loss of parchment to upper right corner well away from text, scattered soiling and light foxing, folds, small tape remnants to outer edges, original decorative embossed paper seal neatly affixed with original pale green ribbons. Strong Madison signature.

Historical Background- Presidential Signed Patents

At 3:00 on the morning of December 15, 1836, a Patent Office messenger sleeping in the building awoke to thick smoke emanating from the basement. He acted quickly, rousing his colleagues to make a desperate attempt to enter the portion of the building that housed the patent documents. Outside the patent room, they encountered blocked doors, heavy smoke, and unreachable windows. By the time the fire department arrived, it was too late; the Patent Office was doomed, and eventually burnt to the ground.

An estimated 7,000 models, 9,000 drawings and 230 books—as well as applications, correspondence, and patent copies—were destroyed by the blaze. Some of these documents were recovered with the help of inventors who still held the original patents, but an examination of the records recovered by the Patent Office revealed that their efforts to restore the archive were not very successful.  Many of the destroyed patents were issued between 1790 and 1822, and had expired at the time of the fire, which made the recovery process even more difficult (Early Un-numbered U.S. Patents, 1790-1836). Of the estimated 10,000 patents issued before 1836, only 2,800 were ever recovered (Dood, Kendall S., Patent Drawings:  Milestone Documents in the National Archives). Very few of the recovered patents are extant today. 

Patents were typically signed by both the President and Secretary of State, and, since four of the five presidents elected after Washington also served as Secretary of State, many of these early patent documents are actually endorsed by two presidents. Signed patents are much scarcer than presidential land grants, ships, and many other forms of presidential documents.

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