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Almanac: Abe Lincoln's patent

(CBS News) And now a page from our "Sunday Morning" Almanac . . . March 10th, 1849, eight score and four years ago today, the day a future president brought forth on this continent a new notion for improving river navigation.

For that was the day Abraham Lincoln filed a patent application for his imaginative method of "Buoying Vessels Over Shoals."

At age 22, Lincoln had been a crewman on a flatboat that got stuck on a dam at New Salem, Ill., a bit of Lincoln folklore depicted in the 1940 film, "Abe Lincoln in Illinois," with Raymond Massey in the starring role.

The cover of a March 1924 issue of Popular Mechanics detailing Abraham Lincoln's invention.
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After another riverboat grounding incident in 1848 when he was serving as a Congressman, Lincoln got to work.

As his law partner William Herndon later wrote: "Continual thinking on the subject of lifting vessels over sand bars and other obstructions in the water suggested to him the idea of inventing an apparatus for this purpose."

And so the next year came Lincoln's solution: a ship equipped with chambers along the side that could be lowered into the water and inflated like balloons to lift the vessel over the obstruction.

Just two months after filing his application, Lincoln received approval, making him the only U.S. President ever to have received a patent.

Sadly, however, even William Herndon thought the whole contraption to be impractical. And in the end, the only one ever built was Lincoln's scale model, which now sits in the Smithsonian Institution . . . high and dry.

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