28 May 2010

The Power of Perseverance: A Patent Search

I didn’t even know if it was a “threshing” machine or a “thrashing” machine. I’d seen it both ways and wondered what the difference was. The first time I encountered the story of my 4th great-grandfather’s invention was this entry in a small red book given to me by my Grandma Christensen many years ago.

Lawrence Hoke 1768-1835
Lawrence Hoke also known as Lorentz Hock was Grandma Johnson’s great grandfather. He was born in Bretten, Baden, October 12, 1768. He worked as a millwright and carpenter in Germany. After he came to America and settled in Pennsylvania near the Maryland line he operated a small farm and also worked at his trade. He was an excellent mechanic. In 1809 he was granted a patent on the first threshing and winnowing machine in the United States. The patent was signed February 15, 1809 by Thomas Jefferson, President; James Madison, Secretary of State; C. A. Rodney, Attorney General. The Threshermen’s Review for July 1902 had a very fine write up on this item. Also a newspaper published in West Virginia in 1902 gave an interview with Judge Joseph T. Hoke, one of his grandsons. The subject of the interview was of course the patent granted to Grandfather (James L. Johnson in Johnson, Max R. and Seely, Joyce, James Johnson and Harriet Emmeline Lamb, J. Grant Stevenson, 1967).

Surely this patent could be found, I thought. In corresponding with other relatives I heard this same information again and again, but no one seemed to have the original patent. Neither could I find the newspaper article, though I did look. Finally, I learned to search the patent records myself and found that this patent was probably burned in an 1837 fire. End of story.

So I thought. Just this week I’ve been working every day with my sister Annalee typesetting our newest family history book—about Grandma Christensen’s ancestors. I mentioned my vain search to Annalee. Now some may call this sister stubborn, but I call her doggedly determined. I admire that trait in her. We had done some searching together in the German parish records and found “Lorenz Hok” there with his family (including twin sons who died shortly after their birth), so he was now a real person to both of us.

Though I assured Annalee that the original patent record had burned, she stopped what we were doing and began an on-line search for the information. Unsuccessful, she found a research librarian whose specialty was patent information and emailed him. The very next day, he emailed back enough information for her to do another search and find the patent. The original had indeed burned, but the information had been re-entered in 1882, after “Lawrence Hock” was dead. I now am looking forward to seeing the original which is surely somewhere in the family, as well as the journal and newspaper articles about it. I have learned this lesson, so beautifully stated in the quote attributed to Winston Churchill during World War II, “Never, never, never, never give up.”

By the way, the patent we found says “thrashing machine.”

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