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Just like many inventions, the US Patent and Trademark Office has gone through many changes and much growth. While the US patent office was initially established in 1836 under the Department of State, the office now falls under the Department of Commerce, and employs more than five thousand people. On December 15, 1836, a terrible fire in the office destroyed all its records and many of its patent models.
These days, inventors use sophisticated drawings as well as photos to prove and explain their claims. Previously, inventors submitted models as well and they are an important part of US patent history. About 3,000 of the models were restored but another fire ruined another 76,000 more. In 1880 the model submission was deemed impractical and later the remaining ones were placed in storage. Many of the models have been lost since then although some ended up in the Smithsonian. Thanks to a few investors and patent model enthusiasts, some models have been saved and put in museums. But, since so many were lost and sold at flea markets, don't be surprised if you come across one. And keep it if you do. It may be worth money.