Thomas Jefferson's Life as an Inventor

Inventions of Thomas Jefferson include a plow and the Macaroni Machine

USA, Virginia, Monticello was the estate of Thomas Jefferson third President of the United States and founder of the University of Virginia. House which Jefferson himself designed was based on neoclassical principles; Charlottesville
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Thomas Jefferson was born on April 13, 1743, at Shadwell in Albemarle County, Virginia. A member of the Continental Congress, he was the author of the Declaration of Independence at the age of 33.

After American independence was won, Jefferson worked for the revision of the laws of his home state of Virginia, to bring them into conformity with the freedoms embraced by the new Constitution of the United States.

Although he had drafted the state's Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom in 1777, Virginia's General Assembly postponed its passage. In January 1786, the bill was reintroduced and, with the support of James Madison, passed as An Act for Establishing Religious Freedom.

In the election of 1800, Jefferson defeated his old friend John Adams to become the third president of the new United States. An inveterate collector of books, Jefferson sold his personal library to Congress in 1815 in order to rebuild the collection of the Congressional Library, destroyed by fire in 1814.

The last years of his life were spent in retirement at Monticello, during which period he founded, designed, and directed the building of the University of Virginia.

Jurist, diplomat, writer, inventor, philosopher, architect, gardener, negotiator of the Louisiana Purchase, Thomas Jefferson requested that only three of his many accomplishments be noted on his tomb at Monticello:

  • Author of the Declaration of American Independence
  • Author of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom
  • Father of the University of Virginia

Thomas Jefferson's Design for a Plow

President Thomas Jefferson, one of Virginia's largest planters, considered agriculture to be "a science of the very first order," and he studied it with great zeal and commitment. Jefferson introduced numerous plants to the United States, and he frequently exchanged farming advice and seeds with like-minded correspondents. Of particular interest to the innovative Jefferson was farm machinery, especially the development of a plow which would delve deeper than the two to three inches achieved by a standard wooden plow. Jefferson needed a plow and method of cultivation that would help prevent the soil erosion that plagued Virginia's Piedmont farms.

To this end, he and his son-in-law, Thomas Mann Randolph (1768-1828), who managed much of Jefferson's land, worked together to develop iron and mould board plows that were specifically designed for hillside plowing, in that they turned the furrow to the downhill side. As the calculations on the sketch show, Jefferson's plows were often based on mathematical formulas, which helped facilitate their duplication and improvement.​​​

Macaroni Machine

Jefferson acquired a taste for continental cooking while serving as American minister to France in the 1780s. When he returned to the United States in 1790 he brought with him a French cook and many recipes for French, Italian, and other au courant cookery. Jefferson not only served his guests the best European wines, but he liked to dazzle them with delights such as ice cream, peach flambe, macaroni, and macaroons. This drawing of a macaroni machine, with the sectional view showing holes from which dough could be extruded, reflects Jefferson's curious mind and his interest and aptitude in mechanical matters.

Other Inventions of Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson designed an improved version of the dumbwaiter.

While serving as George Washington's secretary of state (1790-1793), Thomas Jefferson devised an ingenious, easy, and secure method to encode and decode messages: the Wheel Cipher.

In 1804, Jefferson abandoned his copying press and for the rest of his life used exclusively the polygraph for duplicating his correspondence.

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Bellis, Mary. "Thomas Jefferson's Life as an Inventor." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Bellis, Mary. (2023, April 5). Thomas Jefferson's Life as an Inventor. Retrieved from Bellis, Mary. "Thomas Jefferson's Life as an Inventor." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 6, 2023).