Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809) is one of the most famous and distinguished figures in American history; he is well-known as being the third President of the United States, a Founding Father, and one of the key authors of the Declaration of Independence. But Jefferson was far more than that; he was a true renaissance man. He was not just a brilliant statesman, but also a talented and accomplished writer, linguist (he was conversant in Greek, Latin, Italian, German, French, Spanish, and a few American Indian dialects), bibliophile (he managed a library of more than 6,500 books; as he expressed to his friend, John Adams, “I cannot live without books.”) farmer, botanist, architect, sommelier, gourmet — and a prolific inventor. During a dinner honoring Nobel Winners in 1962, President John F. Kennedy aptly quipped: “I want to tell you how welcome you are to the White House. I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.” Of course, he did own slaves — proving that no one is perfect.
Although not as famous as other American inventors like Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Henry Ford, and Benjamin Franklin, Jefferson was indeed a brilliant inventor, whose inventions had far-reaching impact. Indeed, many are still in use today all around the globe. So what did Jefferson invent? Quite a bit — had he patented all his ideas, his estate would be collecting billions of dollars in royalties to date. Imagine if he were alive today — he would be a formidable panelist on Shark Tank! Below is a partial list of Jefferson’s inventions:
Automatic closing door (used in buses today)
Swivel chair (used when writing the Declaration of Independence)
Portable writing desk (ditto)
Revolving book stand
Clock powered by gravity
Improved moldboard plow
Improved the Polygraph (or Pantograph that copies letter writing, patented by John Hawkins)
System of interchangeable parts (for firearms, but could be applied to general manufacturing)
In the kitchen, he was equally inventive, introducing Basked Alaska and Chicken a la King (favorites of his pal, George Washington).
For further reading: White House Confidential: The Little Book of Weird Presidential History by Gregg Stebben and Austin Hill (2006)