Patent Models – Were they ever manufactured?

Monday, June 19, 2017

This is a question I get all the time about patent models. It is difficult to answer mostly due to the lack of information we have about each model. Due to targeted research, every day we learn more about these wonderful one-of-a-kind treasures. Today, there are more and more that I can positively say “yes” they were manufactured!

An excellent example is Lewis Miller’s Improvement in Grain-Binders patent model. Overall, Miller (1829-1899) received 92 patents. His patenting career was focused on improving farm machinery in conjunction with the companies that his step-brother Cornelius Aultman founded in Canton, Ohio.

At first, he worked for Aultman and later when the company expanded to Akron, he became the superintendent. Later, he became the primary owner. His patents were incorporated into all the farm machinery they were manufacturing and selling.

Grain Binder patent model
Patent Model – Improvement in Grain Binders
Patent #198,898; January 1, 1878
Patentee: Lewis Miller; Akron, Ohio
(Museum Accession #61.47.405)

Miller was most known for improvements he made to reapers. By adding a floating cutter-bar which allowed it to cut according to the ground’s contours, it became the first efficient grass and hay mowing machine. Named in 1855, the “Buckeye Mower and Reaper,” thousands were sold to farmers.

In 1857, the “Buckeye” was awarded first prize at the New York State Fair. Miller was recognized for his inventions in 2006 when he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Lewis Miller
Lewis Miller (1829-1899)

In his personal life, he married Mary Valinda Alexander in 1852 with whom he had eleven children! His daughter Mina, while in Boston attending a music school, met and married well-known inventor Thomas Edison! Two successful inventors in one family!

Miller was dedicated to improving education and served on the Akron School Board for many years. He also taught at the Methodist Sunday School. In 1874, along with his good friend Reverend John Heyl Vincent, they founded the Chautauqua Institution (Chautauqua, NY) which combined recreation with popular lectures, religious training and music. 

Chautauqua still operates today for nine weeks a year with an average of 100,000 participants per year. See more here:

Thomas Edison wrote the following about his father-in-law in the introduction to Lewis Miller’s 1925 biography written by Ellwood Henderick.

“He would work hard all day at the factory designing new machines and new ways of making them and then go home and spend half of the night working just as hard to found a great summer institution, and build it up till it became largely what is it to-day.”

Lewis Miller not only had a very successful career in inventing farm equipment improvements, he also left a remarkable legacy with his founding of Chautauqua. For me, it is amazing how each of these small patent models opens the door to the past. To the people who invented them but also to what was happening in the United States at that time and place.

Debra Hughes is the Museum Curator of Collections and Exhibits at Hagley Museum and Library.