4¢ Abraham Lincoln
Issue Date: November 19, 1954
City: New York, NY
Printed by: Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Printing Method: Rotary Press
Perforations: 11 x 10½
Color: Red violet
Abraham Lincoln Is Awarded Patent
On May 22, 1849, Abraham Lincoln became the only future U.S. president to receive a patent.
When Lincoln was a teenager, he took a flatboat down the Ohio and Mississippi River to New Orleans while working as a hired hand. In the coming years he grew accustomed to traveling the rivers for similar work. In the 1830s he and some fellow workers were traveling the river when their flatboat got stuck on a milldam.
The quick-thinking Lincoln immediately began unloading cargo and then drilled a hole in the boat’s bow, eventually filling it back in. He and a group of locals then brought the boat to shore and carried it past the dam, where he filled it back up and continued on to New Orleans.
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Lincoln went on to become a lawyer and politician, though he never forgot that experience. In fact, in his first political announcement of 1832 he stressed the importance of improving navigation along the Sangamon River.
Years later, Lincoln was once again in a boat that was stranded on a sandbar. This time, the ship’s captain ordered the crew to gather all the loose planks, empty barrels, and boxes and put them under the sides of the boat. Eventually they had enough empty containers under the boat to buoy it up and over the sandbar.
Lincoln gave this experience considerable thought, and it likely inspired his invention. Though he was a lawyer and politician, he had always had an interest in mechanics. As his law partner William Herndon recounted, “he evinced a decided bent toward machinery or mechanical appliances, a trait he doubtless inherited from his father who was himself something of a mechanic and therefore skilled in the use of tools.”
Lincoln’s resulting idea was called “Buoying Vessels Over Shoals.” His idea was to create a system of waterproof fabric compartments that could be inflated when needed to help ships easily move over difficult obstacles. As he saw it, when a ship got stuck, the crew could inflate these chambers at the bottom of the boat that would then lift it over top of the water, away from potential damage. During his research, Lincoln built a scale model boat with his device attached that was later placed on display at the Smithsonian. (Click here to see it.)
In 1847, Lincoln traveled to Washington to begin a two-year term in Congress. There he met patent attorney Zenas C. Robbins who submitted his application on March 10, 1849. Then on May 22, 1849, Lincoln was awarded patent number 6,469.
The patent begins:
“Be it known that I, Abraham Lincoln, of Springfield, in the county of Sangamon, in the state of Illinois, have invented a new and improved manner of combining adjustable buoyant air chambers with a steam boat or other vessel for the purpose of enabling their draught of water to be readily lessened to enable them to pass over bars, or through shallow water, without discharging their cargoes.”
In spite of this, Lincoln’s invention was never produced or put into use. Some doubt if it would have been practical. However, his experience in securing a patent, as well as his previous experience as a patent lawyer, left an impression on Lincoln. In the coming years he twice delivered lectures on the patent system, which he saw as an important aspect of economic development. In fact, he once said that the creation of patent laws was the third most important development in world history behind the discovery of America and the creation of the printing press.
The image of Abraham Lincoln on U.S. #1036 is based on a portrait by Douglas Volk.
Lincoln Becomes America’s 16th President
Abraham Lincoln won the Presidential election of 1860. By the time he took office on March 4, 1861, seven states had seceded from the Union and formed the Confederate States of America. Four more states would soon follow. President Lincoln chose not to force the states to rejoin the Union – until Confederate artillery fired on Fort Sumter, in Charleston Harbor. This single act touched off a conflict that would last four long years.
By the following summer, President Lincoln felt it was necessary to change the policy toward slavery once and for all. In 1863 he drafted the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing all slaves within the states in rebellion. However, because the law applied only to rebel states, it could not be enforced by federal troops. So in actuality, it freed no slaves at the time. The Emancipation Proclamation did serve to shift public opinion in favor of the war effort by making it more of a moral struggle than a political one. It also paved the way for the 13th Amendment, which ended slavery in the United States.
The Liberty Series
Issued to replace the 1938 Presidential series, this patriotic set of stamps honors guardians of freedom throughout U.S. history. Eighteenth century America is represented by Revolutionary War heroes and statesmen such as Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Hamilton, Henry, Jay, and Revere.
Leaders of the 19th century including Monroe, Lincoln, Lee, Harrison, and Susan B. Anthony make an appearance. The 20th century is represented by Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and General Pershing.
The Liberty Series also features famous locations important to America’s democratic history, such as Bunker Hill, Independence Hall, and the Alamo.
“Wet” versus “Dry” Printing
The Bureau of Engraving and Printing began an experiment in 1954. In previous “wet” printings, the paper had a moisture content of 15 to 35 percent. In the experimental “dry” printings, the paper had a moisture content of 5 to 10 percent. This process required stiffer, thicker paper, special inks, and greater pressure to force the paper through the plates.
Stamps produced by dry printing can be distinguished by whiter paper and higher surface sheen. The stamps feel thicker and the designs are more pronounced than on wet printings. So the dry printing experiment was a success, and all U.S. postage stamps have been printed by this method since the late 1950s.