Homes are aglow with Thomas Edison's electric light bulb. Billions have flown since Wilbur and Orville Wright invented the flying machine. But whatever happened to Charles Hess and his piano that unfolds into a bed?

Maybe Hess should have hired a good salesman.Come to think of it, Christian Henry Eisenbrandt of Baltimore never struck it rich with his "Life-Preserving Coffin in Doubtful Cases of Actual Death." His casket came equipped with an air vent and pop-open lid, just in case.

These and other strange fruits of Americans' inventive genius are among hundreds of thousands of historic patent drawings and applications dating to 1790 that are stored in the National Archives.

"These drawings are graphic evidence of the American inventive spirit at the dawning of the industrial revolution in the farm, the factory and the home," said National Archives spokeswoman Jill Brett. "They ranged from the sophisticated to the practical to the absurd."

The shelves of two large warehouses in the Washington suburbs contain original patent applications for inventions that changed the world, from Cyrus McCormick's reaper and Edison's "electric lamp" to Eli Whitney's cotton gin and Alexander Graham Bell's telephone.

Abraham Lincoln, while serving as an Illinois congressman in 1849, obtained Patent No. 6,467 for his own invention, "A Device for Buoying Vessels Over Shoals." The system of inflatable bellows attached to ship hulls was inspired by Lincoln's experiences as a young mate aboard cargo vessels that ran aground in the shallows of the Mississippi River.

Besides Samuel Colt's revolver, Louis Pasteur's beer brewery and Henry Ford's carburetor, the National Archives also contains nearly 900 patents for doing things to clothing and 15 patents awarded to inventors - most of them from Connecticut - who built a better mousetrap.

A disastrous fire at the U.S. Patent Office in 1836 destroyed 10,000 documents and models of some of America's earliest inventions. Lost forever were details of Abraham Mudge's "smut machine," Ebenezer Beard's beehouse and E.G. Pomeroy's boot crimp.

But 2,000 drawings were restored by an emergency team of clerks and draftsmen. Among those filed in steel drawers at the National Archives are depictions of Samuel Spooner's cotton whipper, Nimrod Willet's doughmaking machine, Jonathan Clark's esculent root cutter and other testaments to American triumphs - large and small - in the industrial arts.