A story captivated the Web yesterday that in 1845 President Lincoln had tried to patent an idea very similar to Facebook.
According to blogger Nate St. Pierre, the idea was rejected by the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
St. Pierre described a visit to the Lincoln Museum in Springfield, Ill., where he was shown a paper, the Springfield Gazette. Resembling a newspaper, it was instead "the visual appendix to a patent application" for a 19th-century social network, he said.
"Lincoln was requesting a patent for The Gazette, a system to keep People aware of Others in the Town," St. Pierre playfully wrote.
According to the elaborate story, the paper's layout was as clear as modern-day Facebook, making Lincoln the father of social networks.
The Gazette would have featured a profile picture, personal information, copied and shared material, and few longer posts: that was Facebook — 167 years ago, St. Pierre concluded.
Even though the story was cleverly conceived — indeed more than 5,000 people shared it from St. Pierre's site — it wasn't that hard to see it was totally fabricated.
As one commenter pointed out, "Newspapers of the era couldn't reproduce photographs. Until the 1880s or so, photographs had to be turned into engravings before printing."
It should be also added that the 1845 "profile picture" was taken in 1846 or 1847, according to the Library of Congress. If you still have doubt, here you can find the real Springfield Gazette mentioned by St. Pierre.
However, Abraham Lincoln did hold a patent. It was for a device to lift boats over shoals and obstructions in a river.
Although the invention was never put into production, Lincoln remains the only U.S. president to have received a patent in 1849.
As for Internet-related ideas, you have to go back to Leonardo da Vinci to find what sounds like a networking prophecy.
"Men from very distant places will be talking to each other, and answering each other," the Renaissance genius wrote in the Atlantic Codex in 1500.
Photos: Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States. Credit: Library of Congress;
Lincoln's real patent: "An Improved Method of Buoying Vessels Over Shoals"; Patented May 22, 1849. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.