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Charles Holland Duell (April 13, 1850 – January 29, 1920) was the Commissioner of the United States Patent Office from 1898 to 1901, and was later an Associate Judge of the Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia.

Charles Holland Duell
Charles H. Duell.jpg
Associate Justice of the Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia
In office
January 5, 1905 – August 31, 1906
Appointed byTheodore Roosevelt
Preceded bySeth Shepard
Succeeded byCharles Henry Robb
Commissioner of the United States Patent Office
In office
Appointed byWilliam McKinley
Preceded byBenjamin Butterworth
Succeeded byFrederick Innes Allen
Personal details
Charles Holland Duell

(1850-04-13)April 13, 1850
Cortland, New York
DiedJanuary 29, 1920(1920-01-29) (aged 69)
Yonkers, New York
ChildrenHolland S. Duell
FatherR. Holland Duell
EducationHamilton College (A.B.)
Hamilton College Law School

Education and careerEdit

Born on April 13, 1850, in Cortland, New York, Duell received an Artium Baccalaureus degree in 1871 from Hamilton College and graduated from Hamilton College Law School in 1872. He entered private practice in New York City, New York from 1873 to 1880. He was a member of the New York State Assembly in 1878 and 1880. He returned to private practice in Syracuse, New York from 1880 to 1898. He was the United States Commissioner of Patents of the United States Patent Office (now the United States Patent and Trademark Office from 1898 to 1901. He resumed private practice in New York City from 1901 to 1904.[1]

Federal judicial serviceEdit

Duell was nominated by President Theodore Roosevelt on December 16, 1904, to an Associate Justice seat on the Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia (now the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit) vacated by Associate Justice Seth Shepard. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on January 5, 1905, and received his commission the same day. His service terminated on August 31, 1906, due to his resignation.[1]

Later career and deathEdit

Following his resignation from the federal bench, Duell resumed private practice in New York City from 1906 to 1913, and in 1915. He died on January 29, 1920, in Yonkers, New York.[1]


Duell was the son of Congressman R. Holland Duell (1824–1891) and Mary L. (Cuyler) Duell (1822–1884).[2] He married Harriet M. Sackett (born 1854), and they had several children, among them State Senator Holland S. Duell (1881–1942).[2]

Everything that can be invented has been inventedEdit

Duell has become famous for, during his tenure as United States Commissioner of Patents, purportedly saying "Everything that can be invented has been invented."[3] However, this has been debunked as apocryphal by librarian Samuel Sass[4] who traced the quote back to a 1981 book titled "The Book of Facts and Fallacies" by Chris Morgan and David Langford.[5] 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.[6]

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."[7]

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.[8]


  1. ^ a b c Charles Holland Duell at the Biographical Directory of Federal Judges, a public domain publication of the Federal Judicial Center.
  2. ^ a b "The Sackett Family Association - Charles Holland Duell". 13 February 2013.
  3. ^ e.g. The Economist, 13 April 1991, p.83.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ "Tracing the Quote: Everything that can be Invented has been Invented". Patently-O.
  6. ^ "The Friend". The Friend. 27 March 2019 – via Google Books.
  7. ^ Tracing the Quote: Everything that can be Invented has been Invented, PATENTLYO, Dennis Crouch (January 6, 2011)
  8. ^ "The Charles Duell Rumor".


External linksEdit