George Washington 1789-1797
The first president of the United States has been credited as being the “inventor” of our nation. On April, 1790, President Washington signed the bill (U.S. Constitution Article 1, Section 8) that laid the foundations for the modern American patent system. The U.S. patent system was unique in that for the first time in history the intrinsic right of an inventor to profit from their invention was recognized by law.
Later in 1790, Samuel Hopkins of Pittsford, Vermont was granted the first U.S. patent, for an improvement in the making of potash, a plant byproduct used in the making of soap. The reviewer of this patent was Thomas Jefferson, the then Secretary of State and himself an inventor, Jefferson next passed the document to the Secretary of War for his review and then obtained signatures from the Attorney General and, finally, from President Washington.
The Patent office had issued nearly 10,000 patents by December of 1836 when a fire destroyed many of the original records.
President’s Day originally celebrated Washington’s birthday. So, we join American inventors in wishing President Washington a Happy Birthday and thanking him for the foundation of the nation’s innovation and technology leadership.
"Congress shall have the power...to promote the progress of science and useful arts by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries." - U.S. Constitution Article 1. Section 8.
Thomas Jefferson 1801-1809
President Jefferson is by far the most inventive leader this nation has ever voted in office. He wrote the Declaration of Independence, founded the University of Virginia, and he’s credited with having created and improving dozens of inventions.
"The fact is, that one new idea leads to another, that to a third, and so on through a course of time until someone, with whom no one of these ideas was original, combines all together, and produces what is justly called a new invention." -Thomas Jefferson
A few of his inventions are as follows: personal plow, macaroni machine, portable desk, a dumbwaiter for wine bottles; a polygraph machine that enabled him to make exact copies of letters as he was writing them; Venetian blinds, an achromatic telescope, the Great Clock, hideaway bed, the pedometer, a revolving bookstand, spherical sundial, an improved swivel chair, the wheel cipher .
During his presidency innovations such as the battery, gas lighting, the first steam-powered locomotive and the first electric light were invented. President Jefferson’s contribution to thought, invention and technology is its own study and is strongly encouraged.
Abraham Lincoln 1861-1865
While much of President Lincoln’s time in office was spent in a time of Civil War, for most technologists, he’s known as the only U.S. president to hold a patent. Patent number 6469 was issued to President Lincoln in 1849 for his “floating drydock” for a “manner of buoying vessels” and which was never manufactured.
Lincoln called the development of patent laws one of the most important developments "in the world's history." He thought it "added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius."
The American railroad was by far the greatest innovation and technology of the time Lincoln served as president. The railroad combined with a “small” invention, the tin can, with key opener, maybe had the most profound advancement for American society. The two technologies enabled food to be preserved and shipped far distances. This helped the expansion west. In addition, there were many technological advancements in weaponry during his time in office like the machine gun, dynamite and the torpedo.
Other key technologies developed during Lincoln’s presidency were the elevator, the cotton gin, the telegraph, the bicycle, the lock, new surgical instruments and procedures including using antiseptic, the coffee percolator, refined sugar, the chronograph, plastic and the first gas auto engine.
Teddy Roosevelt 1901-1909
Theodore Roosevelt is best known for his innovation in public policy and diplomacy, but his curiosity and determination left quite a mark on the United States. He coined the name, The White House. He was the first US president to ride in a car, to own a car and to ride in an airplane.
The turn of the century brought many innovations and technology achievements that still shape America’s culture. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, the radio receiver, sonar, the electronic amplifying tube (a precursor to the television), color photography, the helicopter, windshield wipers, the Model T, and maybe most importantly, instant coffee.
President Roosevelt’s plan to build the Panama Canal enable America to conduct commerce on both coasts and defined his contributions to American policy. While President Roosevelt “spoke softly and carried a big stick”, it was his softness during a hunting trip that left a lasting impression on every young American. While on a hunting trip Pres. Roosevelt couldn’t “bear” to shoot a black bear cub that was provided for him. After a cartoonist depicted the satirical scene, a Brooklyn toy store owner created a stuffed bear. With Theodore Roosevelt’s permission, the bear was named “Teddy” and the cute, loveable Teddy Bear took its place in American homes and hearts.