This Week in Intellectual Property History

On December 12, 1899, the United States Patent Office issued Patent No. 638,920, entitled “Golf-Tee”, to Dr. George F. Grant of Boston, Massachusetts, for a wooden tee with a tapered base and a flexible, tubular, concave shoulder that held the ball.

Dr. Grant graduated from Harvard Dental School in 1870. He was one of the first two African Americans to graduate from the school, where he later taught. He also received international acclaim for having invented the oblate palate, a prosthetic device for treatment of cleft palates.

Dr. Grant was an avid golfer interested in the physics of golfing. In the late 19th century tees had not been invented. Instead small mounds of dirt or sand were shaped into cones on which the ball was placed for the first shot toward the hole.

Dr. Grant’s patent described his invention as “a simple, cheap, and effective tee for use in the game of golf, obviating the use of the usual conical mounds of sand, … so constructed that it will not in any manner interfere with the swing or ‘carry through’ of the club in making the stroke.” Dr. Grant never actually marketed his tees, but rather gave them away.

As strange as it may seem other dentists have also patented golf tees. In 1922, Dr. William Lowell patented a red, cone-shaped, wooden peg with a small concave platform. Known as the “Reddy Tee”, it became the world’s first commercially produced golf tee. Recently Dr. Arnold DiLaura patented the “Sof-Tee”, which sits on rather than being pushed into the ground.

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