Feeding hummingbirds may have started with beekeepers feeding the bees in the early spring to give bees an ample supply of food during cold months and get an early start in the honey-gathering season. One method of feeding bees in the 1800's was to invert a bottle of sugar water into a supply cup, similar to some hummingbird feeders you still see today.
So I searched www.google.com/patents and found a 1941 patent for a Sweet Liquid Bird Feeder built for birds only and made to exclude the bees. Click the link to see the full patent: http://goo.gl/64eJ2. It was a glass jar that screwed into a cup that had a wire screen on top to allow the hummingbirds to lap up the sugar water.
The National Audubon Society claims that the first commercial hummingbird feeder was introduced in 1950 by the Audubon Novelty Company of Medina, New York. They say it was a glass tube designed by Laurence J. Webster of Boston, as a gift for his wife, who had read an article in a 1928 edition of The National Geographic Magazine.
Today hummingbird feeders continue to be improved. Always look for feeders that are easy to clean and easy to fill. To see a list of my favorite hummingbird feeders of 2011 click the following link: http://lansingwbu.blogspot.com/2011/04/best-hummingbird-feeders-of-2011.html