Charles Holland Duell

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Charles Duell)
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Charles Holland Duell
Charles H. Duell.jpg
Born(1850-04-13)April 13, 1850
Cortland, New York
DiedJanuary 29, 1920(1920-01-29) (aged 69)
Yonkers, New York
EducationHamilton College (1871)
TitleCommissioner of the United States Patent and Trademark Office
Political partyRepublican
ChildrenCharles Holland Duell II
William S. Duell
Holland S. Duell

Charles Holland Duell (April 13, 1850 – January 29, 1920) was the commissioner of the United States Patent and Trademark Office in 1898 to 1901, and was later a United States federal judge.


He was born in Cortland, New York, the son of Congressman R. Holland Duell (1824–1891) and Mary L. (Cuyler) Duell (1822–1884). He graduated A.B. from Hamilton College in 1871, and from Hamilton College Law School in 1872.[1] He married Harriet M. Sackett (born 1854), and they had several children, among them State Senator Holland S. Duell (1881–1942).

He was in private practice in New York City from 1873 to 1880, and was a member of the New York State Assembly (New York Co., 13th D.) in 1878 and 1880.[1] He moved his practice to Syracuse, New York from 1880 to 1898.[1]

In 1898, he was appointed as the United States Commissioner of Patents, and held that post until 1901.

Duell returned to private practice in New York City until 1904.[1] On December 16, 1904, Duell was nominated by President Theodore Roosevelt to a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit vacated by Seth Shepard.[1] Duell was confirmed by the United States Senate On January 5, 1905, and received his commission the same day, but he only remained on the bench for a year and a half, resigning on August 31, 1906.[1] He resumed his private practice in New York City until 1915.

He died on January 29, 1920, in Yonkers, New York.[1]

Everything that can be invented has been invented[edit]

Duell has become famous for, during his tenure as United States Commissioner of Patents, purportedly saying "Everything that can be invented has been invented."[2] However, this has been debunked as apocryphal by librarian Samuel Sass[3] who traced the quote back to a 1981 book titled "The Book of Facts and Fallacies" by Chris Morgan and David Langford.[4] In fact, Duell said in 1902:

In my opinion, all previous advances in the various lines of invention will appear totally insignificant when compared with those which the present century will witness. I almost wish that I might live my life over again to see the wonders which are at the threshold.[5]

Dennis Crouch saw a correlation between the expression and a joke from an 1899 edition of Punch magazine.

In that edition, the comedy magazine offered a look at the "coming century." In colloquy, a genius asked "isn't there a clerk who can examine patents?" A boy replied "Quite unnecessary, Sir. Everything that can be invented has been invented."[6]

Another possible origin of this famous statement may actually be found in a report to Congress in 1843 by an earlier Patent Office Commissioner, Henry Ellsworth. In it Ellsworth states, "The advancement of the arts, from year to year, taxes our credulity and seems to presage the arrival of that period when human improvement must end." This quote was apparently then mispresented and attributed to Duell, who held the same office in 1899.[7]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Duell, Charles Holland - Biographical Directory of Federal Judges
  2. ^ e.g. The Economist, 13 April 1991, p.83.
  3. ^ Samuel Sass, author and publisher, "A Patently False Patent Myth Archived July 9, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.," Skeptical Inquirer (Magazine for Science and Reason), Vol. 13, Spring 1989, pg. 310-313.
  4. ^
  5. ^ The Friend, Volume 76, 1902
  6. ^ Tracing the Quote: Everything that can be Invented has been Invented, PATENTLYO, Dennis Crouch (January 6, 2011)
  7. ^ The Charles Duell Rumor


External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
Benjamin Butterworth
United States Commissioner of Patents
Succeeded by
Frederick Innes Allen
Preceded by
Seth Shepard
Judge of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
Succeeded by
Charles Henry Robb