Founding Fathers: Revolutionary Inventors

July 1, 2015

This Fourth of July marks 239 years since the Founding Fathers declared independence from Great Britain. Eleven years later, they drafted the United States Constitution. There’s no doubt that these achievements are historic – many would say legendary.

But our Founding Fathers were revolutionary in more ways than one. That’s why, in honor of Independence Day, we’d like to highlight a few of the Founding Fathers who not only thought of the constitutional Patent Clause, the foundation of the American IP system, but also proudly invented prolifically.

Benjamin Franklin

An expert in numerous subjects, Benjamin Franklin was truly a renaissance man. And one of his interests, electricity, produced a groundbreaking technology – the lighting rod. At the time, scientists only theorized that lightning bolts were made of electricity, and Mr. Franklin made it his goal to confirm the hypothesis.

The invention of the lightning rod not only confirmed that lightning was electric, but also proved to be pivotal for the protection of buildings and other structures. His design was so impressive that the next generation of lightning rods weren’t created until more than 150 years later when Nikola Tesla patented an improvement. That’s quite an impressive feat, even for someone who invented groundbreaking stoves, bifocal glasses, and numerous other innovations.

George Washington

The Continental Army’s Commander-in-Chief and our nation’s first president isn’t often thought of as an inventor. But as a farmer, George Washington always looked for ways to improve efficiency on his 8,000 acre estate. At the time, separating grain from stalk was an arduous task. The easiest method involved letting horses literally trample the grain. Though this method was faster, it was still inefficient. So Washington invented the 16-sided-barn, a two-story structure that left spaces between the floorboards on the second floor. That way when the horses trampled the grain, the separated product fell through the granary to the bottom floor. There it was stored, winnowed, and shipped to the mill for processing. The result was a machine-like increase in efficiency. Why 16-sides? Washington wanted a circle for the horses to run around, coupled with a design that provided an easier build.

Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine’s major achievements include designing the second iron bridge in human history. He also developed a smokeless candle and worked on early engine designs. These are incredible feats, especially for someone who was already the best-selling American author of the era. Paine’s revolutionary pamphlet, Common Sense, sold 120,000 copies in its first three months of publication. To put that in perspective, the nation’s population at the time was just three million. We think it’s certainly not a stretch to call Mr. Paine one of the most innovative Founding Fathers!

Want to learn more about American invention and innovation? Check out the Men of Progress painting, a famous tribute to some of the 19th century’s greatest minds. And don’t forget to ride along as we profile some of the best and brightest innovators of the modern world. Happy Fourth of July!

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