At the United States Patent Office, paper copies of patent documents are stored in special drawers called "shoes." According to some, the term "shoes" arose from Thomas Jefferson's practice of storing early patent documents in his shoe boxes. This story is probably false. Henry Remsen, Jr., wrote a memorandum in early 1792 – most likely for the benefit of his successor as chief clerk – in which he described how patent documents were stored:

Petitions for patents are to be endorsed according to the present mode, the day of their receipt, and noted in the minute book, in which petitions are filed together in the desk up stairs in one of the pigeon holes. In the said desk are filed in another pigeon hole, the petitions decided on; and also the drafts of patents issued, which drafts the law for promoting useful arts directs to be recorded. Some of the specifications are in said desk, and others in the closet.[1]

Monticello research historians have never found any evidence that Jefferson used shoe boxes. He typically ordered his shoes directly from shoemakers, and would have either picked them up or had someone else pick them up; it is unlikely there was a box involved.[2] Finally, Kenneth W. Dobyns, in The Patent Office Pony: A History of the Early Patent Office, has the following to say about this story:

The origin of the term shoe is lost, although every patent examiner knows where his shoes are. Some have attributed the term to Thomas Jefferson, suggesting that he stored his patents in shoe boxes. But we know that the drawings kept in the Patent Office in the preprinting days were of varying sizes and were kept in portfolios from the earliest days. Shoes, as we know them, could only have arisen after all patents were available in small, uniform sizes and could be kept in small, uniform boxes.[3]Anchor

Further Sources


  1. ^ Further Memoranda from Henry Remsen, Jr., [ca. 1792], in PTJ, 17:385-86. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  2. ^ For particulars on Jefferson's shoe purchases, see the index entry for "Clothing: Footwear," in MB, 2:1459.
  3. ^ Kenneth W. Dobyns, The Patent Office Pony: A History of the Early Patent Office (Fredericksburg, VA: Sergeant Kirkland's Museum and Historical Society, 1994), 193. Text available online.