Father of Invention: Washington’s Support for Eighteenth-Century Innovators : The History Reader


Posted on February 22, 2021

by John Berlau

George Washington: completed common, well-known statesman…enterprise innovator? Most individuals don’t know that Washington was one of many nation’s first true entrepreneurs, chargeable for improvements in a number of industries.

As president, George Washington acquired many requests from ship captains or drivers of horses and carriages for permission to cross by way of safe areas with out interference from the army or different authorities. Most of those requests have been routine. Nevertheless, on January 9, 1793, he granted a safe-passage request from the pilot of a extremely uncommon automobile: a brand new invention known as a hot-air balloon.

Balloon flights had not too long ago been pioneered by a small variety of fans in Europe, drawing giant crowds and inflicting a widespread sensation. French pilot Jean-Pierre Blanchard had efficiently launched quick flights in France and England and had additionally flown throughout the English Channel. Now he wished to carry his air present to America.

Jean Pierre Blanchard.
This picture is within the public area by way of Wikicommons.

Not solely did Washington permit it, he gave the customer a hearty American welcome. Cannon hearth, at common intervals, awoke the capital metropolis of Philadelphia on the identical day Washington signed the letter of protected passage. At 10 a.m., in entrance of gathered crowds, Washington himself appeared to provide Blanchard his cross and make a brief speech praising the person he known as “the daring aeronaut.” Future presidents John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe have been additionally in attendance. After waving the flags of the US and France to the gang watching from the road and the home windows of close by buildings, Blanchard took off and coated 15 miles in a then unheard-of 46 minutes. He would return to Philadelphia by standard journey later that night to go to Washington and inform him all concerning the day’s journey.

Washington was already effectively conscious of the phenomenon. The craze had been kicked off ten years earlier, when the primary manned balloon flight was launched in Paris by the Montgolfier brothers. The balloon was up within the air for a grand complete of 25 minutes, and it traveled nearly 5 miles. The general public was fascinated, but few grasped the implications for the long run. Washington was a type of few.

Regardless of Thomas Jefferson’s assertion that Washington’s thoughts, although able to making sound judgements, was “sluggish in operation, being little aided by invention or creativeness,” Washington was faster than most of his contemporaries to see the potential of manned flight. Writing to French army chief Louis Lebègue Duportail in 1784, Washington made this prediction: “The tales associated of them are marvelous, and lead us to anticipate that our pals at Paris, in a little bit time, will come flying thro’ the air, as an alternative of ploughing the ocean to get to America.”

In truth, Washington noticed the potential of many innovations of the early industrial age, and he gladly served as a mentor or booster for plenty of different innovators. He championed inventors each in his insurance policies as president and in his dealings with them as a personal citizen.

Consider it or not, when the US turned a brand new nation within the 1780s, inventors didn’t have one of the best public picture. As Andrea Sutcliffe explains in her historical past of steam energy, many individuals at the moment seen them as “self-indulgent crackpots.”

Fortuitously, these people discovered an ally in Washington, who seen them as visionaries desperately wanted for the expansion of the brand new nation. In his first tackle to Congress on January 8, 1790, Washington known as for the “introductions of recent and helpful innovations from overseas” and “encouragement . . . of talent and genius in producing them at house.” Congress handed the Patent Act later that yr for the aim (within the Structure’s phrases) of “securing for restricted instances to authors and inventors the unique proper to their respective writings and discoveries.”

In 1891, talking at an occasion at Mount Vernon on the one hundredth anniversary of the Patent Act, Joseph M. Toner, an eminent doctor and lecturer who had served as president of the American Medical Affiliation and American Public Well being Affiliation, described Washington’s essential position in serving to inventors. He advised the viewers that “the situations through which Washington gave encouragement to new innovations are quite a few,” and that Washington would all the time have “a form phrase of encouragement for these working to the top of devising new strategies and improved implements in any of the humanities.” As Toner famous, Washington was seemingly sympathetic to their struggles as a result of he had tried his hand at inventing a number of labor-saving units himself.

Within the 1780s, Washington made what he would name a “drill plow” or a “barrel plow” by placing wheels on a plow and attaching a barrel to it. The revolving barrel would carry the seeds he wished to plant and drop them into small seeding tubes affixed below the plow. The tubes would then distribute the seeds within the area at exact angles. The improved spacing of the seeds led to raised development of Washington’s crops. The plow additionally helped Washington pursue his longstanding objectives of crop rotation and conservation. In what had been the cornfields, Washington’s staff would put various kinds of seeds in every tube of the drill plow and plant corn, cabbage, potatoes, and peas multi functional area with one system.

A view on Mount Vernon with the Washington household on the terrace. (Portray by Benjamin Henry Latrobe)
This picture is within the public area by way of Wikicommons.

Nonetheless, by 1797, Washington seemingly changed his drill plows—which had limitations on tough terrain— with the brand new mechanized “threshing machines” he was shopping for to plow Mount Vernon’s fields.12 Washington’s penchant for mechanical tinkering mixed along with his information of structure led him to construct distinctive constructions round Mount Vernon to enhance the effectivity of his farming. We now have already mentioned the “dung repository” he designed to protect extra manure in its liquid type. Throughout his presidency within the 1790s, Washington wrote letters to his Mount Vernon farm managers detailing the development of a novel, 16-sided barn for grain storage and processing. The barn, accomplished in 1794 and reconstructed at Mount Vernon in 1996 from Washington’s unique plans, contained many distinctive, sensible options. As an example, Washington intentionally left areas between the floorboards to maneuver the grain by way of ramps to the granary beneath whereas horses slowly paced the white oak ground. The design of the barn made the horses a part of the grain refining course of.

Copyright © 2021 by John Berlau.

Be taught extra about Washington’s enterprise pursuits:

Credit score: Kristen H. Murray

John Berlau is an award-winning journalist, recipient of the Nationwide Press Membership’s Sandy Hume Memorial Award for Excellence in Political Journalism, and Senior Fellow for Finance and Entry to Capital on the Aggressive Enterprise Institute. He’s a columnist for Forbes and Newsmax, and has contributed to Monetary Instances, Washington Put up, Politico, Wall Road Journal,and Washington Instances. He’s a frequent visitor on CNBC, CNN, Fox Information, and Fox Enterprise. He lives close to Mount Vernon in Alexandria, VA.

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