Every school child is imbued with a history of the American Revolution that glorifies the great accomplishments, political, military and social, of the famous founding fathers. We learn that George Washington; the Father of the United States was a great military leader, farmer, politician and stoic face of the revolutionary movement. Benjamin Franklin was an inventor, publisher, diplomat, self-made millionaire and audaciously wise man. John Adams was a wonderful raconteur, writer, philosopher and brave leader.
While we know much about these, and so many other great pioneering founders, we have lost much knowledge of the flavor and contributions that they made to improvements of every day life in colonial times. And accordingly, we have lost an example that can be so easily transferred to our modern world. These amazing men invented and improved according to the needs they confronted in a pre-industrial age.
Washington, as an example, was a wonderful brew-master and produced highly desired whiskey. He traded his brew very profitably and was greatly admired in Europe for the quality of his grain whiskey. His barter with European merchants for trade goods was one of the earliest examples of ongoing international trade between the colonies and Europe.
Of the famous men of the revolution, however, none was so compelling, diverse, rounded and brilliant as Thomas Jefferson; farmer, educator, statesman, politician and practical inventor. We know Jefferson was the founder of the University of Virginia, chief writer of the Declaration of Independence, Secretary of State, two term President and builder of Monticello. Today he is mostly forgotten as an inventor. And yet, Jefferson’s contributions as an inventor were most significant in his time and a wonderful example applicable to our present day.
Thomas Jefferson created products, inventions and enhancements based on the practical needs of his environment. As a dedicated and studious farmer, he was constantly seeking to improve crop yield. During his diplomatic work in Europe he was introduced to the Dutch Mold Board Plow. As he saw the device in use he noted that it was unwieldy and not as utilitarian as it needed to be. Nevertheless he saw the germ of an idea and worked to improve it. The result was the re-engineered Mold Board Plow of Least Resistance. This advanced plow enabled 18th century farmers to plow the ground more deeply, more easily and to conserve valuable seed thus increasing crop yield and profitability.
While serving as Secretary of State Jefferson was vexed by the need, and difficulty in keeping diplomatic and military secrets. His answer was the ingenious Wheel Cipher. Made from wood, with 26 spinning bands (one for each letter of the alphabet) this became the world’s most advanced method of transporting and protecting state secrets.
A visitor to Monticello is exposed to a number of Thomas Jefferson’s most practical inventions; many in use to this day. The Great Clock, invented without a minute hand, is still on display. To set the clock, Jefferson invented a folding ladder, that is still used worldwide in libraries. He invented a great Sundial that is still a marvel of engineering. The beds in the house are ingeniously hung from ropes that enabled them to be lifted and lowered to increase living space when not is use. On either side of the great fireplace in the salon are dumbwaiters. These were used to have servants send up wine and victuals without appearing physically.
As a man of the pen, Jefferson was continually reading, in deepest thought and preferred to work in silence. To facilitate his work habits he created the revolving chair as a means of maximizing his productivity. The ability to swivel, which we take for granted today, was revolutionary and enabled the user to have access to several work spaces and additional materiel from a single control spot.
The revolving bookstand was a similar invention. This ingeniously simple device enabled Jefferson to work with multiple books and reference materials simultaneously from a spinning stand of multiple, slanted easel ledges. The ability to cogently study and compare literature in a timely way is again something we take for granted but was an important improvement in the 18th century.
Thomas Jefferson was particularly proud of the Portable Copy Press he designed. This small, unobtrusive press enabled him to make multiple copies of important documents while he traveled Europe as a diplomat. People were amazed at the facility and functionality of the machine. Almost as famous as the Portable Copy Press was the travel case customized to carry the unit. It was essentially the first portable office with compartments for pens, ink, a variety of supplies, and, even a nightcap.
The genius of Thomas Jefferson, and so many of his contemporaries, was their ability to create practical devices that improved theirs, and their society’s circumstances. The created things they needed. Profit was not their principal motivation. They were driven by the need for more functional products that would enhance their ability to be more productive.
This is advice I give almost daily in my consulting business. Many people dream about inventing the next Post-It Note, paper clipper, zipper or Play-Dough. The successful inventors, entrepreneurs and small businesses I have worked with always become successful because they answer a need by providing a product or service featuring better features and benefits. Invariably, these advances arise from their life’s experience, either work, hobby or home.
Focusing on what we each know and live daily is the best path to entrepreneurial commercial success. Washington, Franklin and Jefferson invented things of value to their world. That model works just as well today.
Please feel free to contact me to discuss this article or a project you may be mulling. The opportunity to succeed as an entrepreneur has never been greater. Learn the lessons of history. Contact the author, Geoff Ficke at http://www.DuquesaMarketing.com, 407 260 1127 for a free, no obligation consultation.