Q: Is it true that a former president wanted to close the patent office, claiming everything had already been invented?
A: Although we find the statement patently absurd, it sure does pop up everywhere. But it appears to be yet another legend.
The story that's most often told is that in 1899 the head of the U.S. Patent Office sent his resignation to President McKinley urging the closing of the office because "everything that could be invented has been invented." It's been told and retold so often that even President Reagan used it in a speech.
The "quote" is often attributed to Charles H. Duell, who was Commissioner of Patents in 1899. However, according to The Great Idea Finder, Duell was far from pessimistic about the future of new inventions and patents. He even encouraged Congress to improve the patent system.
My Comment: This page http://www.uspto.gov/go/taf/issuyear.htm says that in 1899, 24,000+ patents were issued. Hardly indicating that everything had been invented.