The Wisconsin State Quarter Coin with its ear of corn helps tell the tale of the first invention patented to an early American 299 years ago.
The invention titled “Cleansing Curing and Refining of Indian Corn Growing in the Plantations” presented improved processing methods for the corn crops.
The following excerpt discussed the patent in the Third Biennial Report of the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the State of Minnesota 1891-1892.
The first patent granted to a citizen of the new world for an invention or discovery was for a device connected with this flour making industry. It was to a citizen of Pennsylvania.
This first inventor in the new world was a woman, Mrs. Sybilla Masters, of the city of Philadelphia. The patent was, however, granted to her husband under the laws and usages of the period, which gave the man control of the financial and business affairs of his wife.
This first invention in the milling business of the new world, the first device which secured an American patent, was protected by the English patent No. 401, issued November 25, 1715, in the following quaint language:
“to Thomas Masters, of Pensilvania, his Exec’rs, Adm’rs, and Assignes, of the sole Use and Benefit of A New Invencon found out by Sybilla, his wife, for Cleaning and Curing the Indian Corn Growing in the several Colonies in America, within England, Wales, and Town of Berwick-upon-Tweed, and the Colonies in America.”
This invention of Mrs. Masters consisted of two series of stamps in mortars, to be driven by horse or water power, acting through wooden cog-wheels on a long cylinder, the latter having projections to trip the stamps or mallets.
There were also included a number of inclined trays. At the foot of the rude drawing of the machine there is the following, in old English script, apparently an additional claim or after thought.
The language is in places somewhat obscure.
“Philadelphia, the 2d, 6th, Mo., called August, 1716. Pursuant to his Majesty’s Grant for the Using, Trying and Preparing the Indian corn fit for transportation and which was never before done, these are examples of part of the Engines I [obscure] on my protection, with the witness my hand and seal. Sibilla Masters.”
It will be noted that the essential portion of this device of Mrs. Masters was a series of mortars driven by mechanical power. Possibly the whole invention was suggested as an improvement upon the “hominy blocks” already described as being common in some parts of early Pennsylvania. Be that as it may the future progress in American milling was not to follow the methods devised by Mrs. Masters. That invention came to naught.
Mrs. Masters called her preparation of corn “Tuscarora Rice.” It was something like the modern hominy.
She strongly recommended it as a food and particularly for the relief and recovery of consumptive and sickly persons.
After he had secured his patent, Mr. Masters, who was a wealthy man for the times, purchased the historic “Governor’s Mill,” erected for Wm. Penn in the beginning of his colony.
In that mill he set up apparatus suitable for the manufacture of “Tuscarora Rice,” with the results already mentioned.
This was not her only invention.
Mrs. Masters received another patent, via her husband, for the “Working and Weaving in a New Method, Palmetta Chip and Straw for Hats and Bonnets and other Improvements of that Ware.
The Wisconsin State Quarter Coin shows against a harvest of corn kernels.