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Thomas Jefferson: Inventions & Accomplishments

Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, former middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson we will explore the achievements of Thomas Jefferson. We will learn about his inventions and explore other notable accomplishments, such as the drafting of the Declaration of Independence and the founding of the University of Virginia.

Thomas Jefferson: A True ''Renaissance Man''

Have you ever heard the term ''Renaissance Man''? This term is often applied to Leonardo da Vinci and many others. It describes someone who demonstrates brilliance in a number of diverse fields: a jack-of-all-trades, so to speak. Thomas Jefferson is often described as a ''Renaissance Man''. While he is primarily known as an American ''Founding Father'' and president, we sometimes forget he was also a scientist, inventor, diplomat, architect, and philosopher. And he was involved in some pretty quirky accomplishments as well. This was the guy who pioneered tomato-eating (when many people regarded it unhealthy or even poisonous) and invented a ''macaroni machine''. Okay, okay, so this is a bit silly: from here on out we'll stay focused on some of the more central, important achievements. Let's dig in and learn about the inventions and accomplishments of America's ''Renaissance man''!

Thomas Jefferson was gifted in many diverse fields, including science, architecture, philosophy, and others.
tj

Inventions and Innovations

In addition to being a brilliant statesman and politician, Thomas Jefferson was also a pretty decent inventor. He loved science, architecture, and design, and he was always looking for ways to improve existing technology. His brilliance was not so much in inventing new contraptions, but in making existing things function more efficiently. For example, he created an improved swivel chair by modifying an English-style Windsor chair.

He also developed an improved plow containing an iron moldboard. This was a huge advancement in American agriculture because his iron plow dug deeper into the soil and was more durable than typical wooden moldboard plows. Writing to a friend, Jefferson praised his new plow, saying that it was ''so light that two small horses or mules draw it with less labor than I have ever before seen necessary. It does beautiful work and is approved by everyone.''

One of his most famous inventions is the polygraph. Now at first you're probably thinking of a lie detector, but this is not the case. Jefferson's polygraph was a simple letter-copying device. The device was basically one pen attached to another pen that followed in the first pen's motions. So if someone signed their name with one pen, the second pen would create an identical signature. Jefferson was able to write letters with his polygraph while maintaining a copy. Remember, there were no copy machines at this time!

The polygraph device invented by Thomas Jefferson.
polygraph

Jefferson also developed a dumbwaiter system operated by a pulley. In his Virginia home, Monticello, he installed a pulley system that could transport wine from the cellar below directly to his dining room. Wine was loaded onto shelves in the cellar, then pulled up a narrow corridor into the dining room. It is believed Jefferson developed this design while he lived in France.

Okay, so we have to mention the ''macaroni machine''. It would be unfair not to. This was basically a device for making pasta. It involved a board with various sized holes through which macaroni noodles could be made by turning a crank. Incidentally, Thomas Jefferson is often credited with popularizing macaroni and cheese in the United States. So next time you take a bite of that yellow, cheesy goodness, thank Mr. Jefferson!

If you ever get the opportunity to visit Thomas Jefferson's home, Monticello, in Charlottesville, Virginia, you will soon realize the architectural genius of Thomas Jefferson. Everything has a purpose. The house is designed to be aesthetically pleasing, but also efficient. No space is wasted.

Major Accomplishments

Thomas Jefferson had many accomplishments, but he wanted to be remembered for three in particular. Even though he was the third President of the United States, he did not consider this one of his three greatest life achievements. The three things he wanted to be remembered for are engraved upon his tombstone.

The tombstone of Thomas Jefferson reads: Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and father of the University of Virginia.
tomb

He wanted to be remembered as the author of the the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration of Independence was America's founding document. It created the United States of America. Jefferson was its principal author, although he received support and editing from John Adams and Benjamin Franklin.

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