Many people remember Thomas Jefferson for feats such as being our third president, signing the Declaration of Independence, his promotion of republicanism in the United States, the Louisiana Purchase, and even the Lewis and Clark Expedition. From all of these accomplishments it is easy to see why scholars continuously rank him among the greatest U.S. presidents that ever lived.
One title that has helped catapult Jefferson to the top of the scholarly list is an identity that has little to do with the White House. Thomas Jefferson was celebrated as one of the top inventors and innovators of his time. He invented, co-invented, innovated, or improved all of the following items.
First, and most famously, he invented the “Moldboard of least resistance,” a new design for a plow that would better lift and turn over sod more effectively. Because the economy at the time was centered on farming and planting, this innovation of the original plow was a large success.
In 1792 Jefferson invented a device called a wheel cipher. It consisted of twenty-six cylindrical wooden “wheels” connected together by a rod that was placed through the center of each piece. On the edge of each wheel were all twenty-six letters of the alphabet etched into the wood. The purpose of the cipher was to allow a person to arrange and rearrange letters in order to code messages to one another.
Another great invention by Jefferson is referred to as the Great Clock. He worked together with his confidant, Louis Leschot, on the development that can he found in the entrance hall of Monticello. His version of a clock lacked a minute hand on the face because, he said, “two wheels were to turn an hour hand on the reverse face of the wall on a wooden hour plate of 12 inch radius. There need be no minute hand, as the hour figures will be 6 inches apart, but the interspace should be divided into 1/4 seconds and 5 minute marks.” He basically stated that the hour hand provided sufficient accuracy to tell time.
In conjunction with the Great Clock, Jefferson also invented a mahogany ladder that folded up into a pole shape for storage. The ladder was to be used for repairs to the Clock and in the late 1800s it became a very popular accessory in United States libraries.
Other inventions and innovations by Jefferson include a sundial, a portable copying press, a polygraph (letter copying device), “automatic” double doors, the swivel chair, a revolving book stand, and the pedometer.
All of his inventions have an astonishing similarity; he never applied for a patent for any of them. He was a firm believer that his inventions should be used for the benefit of all society, not just for himself, and he routinely encouraged others to replicate his designs.
Thomas Jefferson was certainly an influential founding father of the United States. In 1794 he worked together with George Washington to allow for the passage between Alexandria, Virginia and Antiqua to deliver flour, bread, and corn to the United States. In Geppi’s Entertainment’s Morphy Auctions upcoming November 22, 2008 Americana sale, the documentation that allowed the passage is available. The Washington & Jefferson signed ship’s passage will be up for auction with both original signatures and accompanying brass biography plaques. Please visit Morphy Auctions to see all that is available in the Arthur Richmond Americana Collection.