Scientific American was founded by inventor and publisher Rufus M. Porter in 1845 as a single-page newsletter. Throughout its early years much emphasis was placed on reports of what was going on at the U.S. Patent Office. It also reported on a broad range of inventions including perpetual motion machines, an 1849 device for buoying vessels by Abraham Lincoln, and the universal joint which now finds place in nearly every automobile manufactured. Current issues feature a "this date in history" section, featuring excerpts from articles originally published 50, 100, and 150 years earlier; topics include humorous incidents, wrong-headed theories, and noteworthy advances in the history of science and technology.
Porter sold the newsletter to Alfred Ely Beach and Orson Desaix Munn I a mere 10 months after founding it. Until 1948 it remained owned by Munn & Company. Under Orson Desaix Munn III, grandson of the Orson I, it had evolved into something of a "workbench" publication, similar to the 20th century incarnation of Popular Science.