Mark Twain: Patently Multi-Talented


Mark Twain patents scrapbook garment strap memory game
Mark Twain (upper left) received patents for three inventions: a scrapbook (upper right), memory improvement game (lower left), and adjustable strap for garments

Mark Twain was much more than an accomplished author. He was also an inventor who was awarded patents for three different innovative devices. Ironically, because of his inventions, this well-known author’s most profitable book was blank.

A lifelong lover of scrapbooks, Twain thought there had to be a better way to save pictures and clippings. When he couldn’t find one, he invented it instead. In June of 1873, he received Patent #140245 for improvement in scrapbooks. His scrapbook pages were self-sticking. Thin strips of glue were printed on the pages to make updates neat and easy to do. The item named Mark Twain’s Scrapbook sold 25,000 copies. By 1901, 57 different types of the scrapbook were available. According to The St. Louis Post-Dispatch on June 8, 1885, Twain made $50,000 from his scrapbook and $200,000 for all of his other books combined.

In his book A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Hank Morgan, the Connecticut Yankee, said “…the very first official thing I did in my administration–and it was on the very first day of it too–was to start a patent office; for I knew that a country without a patent office and good patent laws was just a crab and couldn’t travel anyway but sideways and backwards.” This philosophy certainly was true for Twain in real life, and his inventions revealed the multifaceted nature of his curious mind.

His first patent, Patent #121992, was for an adjustable strap that could be used to tighten garments at the waist. Issued in 1871, this strap attached to the back of a shirt and fastened with buttons to keep it in place and was easy to remove. Twain’s invention was not only used for shirts, but for underpants and women’s corsets as well. His purpose was to do away with suspenders, which he considered uncomfortable.

His other patented invention was Patent #324535, issued in 1885, for a game designed to help improve one’s memory. He spent seven years tinkering with it before releasing Mark Twain’s Memory Builder, a game of historical trivia. It was not a financial success.

Although he had a better-than-average capacity for coming up with inventions, he was woefully off-base when it came to investing in successful ones. Read more about that side of the famous author here.

You can also read about another innovative aspect of Twain as an author here.

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