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Abbreviation for patent, an official document conferring a right or privilege on some person or party. — Webster, 1882

Mary put her finger on the bottom row and spelled out, “P A T. One seven seven ought.” -On The Banks of Plum Creek, Chapter 16, “The Wonderful House”

In On the Banks of Plum Creek, Mary Ingalls reads the raised metal letters on the new cook-stove,
“P A T 1 7 7 0,” suggesting either a manufacturer’s item number 1770 or (less likely) a stove design patented in the year 1770. Later in school, beginning reader Laura is taught that “C A T” is “cat” and she remembers the stove and cries, “P A T, Pat!” Miss Beadle is impressed.

This story doesn’t appear in either Pioneer Girl or the Plum Creek manuscript. However, a clue as to its origin can be found in a letter from Rose Wilder Lane to a friend. Rose remembered being a small child, so little that when standing in front of the cooking stove in the claim-house, she must reach up to touch the letters on the sliding door to the ash pan, while her chin is only a little way from the little shelf in front of it.

She reads P A T, putting her finger on each letter, then asks her parents what it spells. Almanzo tells her it spells “Pat.”

Rose asks, “Pat who?” and Almanzo replied, “Pat Murphy.” Rose goes on to say that she didn’t recognize what was after the name, but it must have been a date, of course. “Pat.” was patent, and the date was probably 1880. She knew enough that “Murphy” didn’t fit, and it worried her that she didn’t understand. Rose goes on to sum up the experience this way:

EVERYTHING I remember from before I was 7 was something I kept trying to understand and couldn’t.

It is not known how the story ended up in the published story, but Rose must have thought that young Laura had felt the same way about learning to read and puzzling out the unknowns in her environment, the same as Rose had so many years earlier.


P A T, pat! (BPC 17, 20), see also patent