Last Monday was Presidents Day. But that holiday is relatively new – an amalgamation of the birthdays of George Washington (President #1, February 22) and Abraham Lincoln (President #16, February 12). It is now a day set aside to celebrate all American Commanders-in-Chief.
Since yesterday was Washington’s actual day of birth (and he is thus far my favorite president) I think we should look at another, lesser known contribution he and several of his successors made to our nation. They were inventors.
When asked how he wanted to be remembered, Washington replied “As a farmer.” And it was in all things farming that he was constantly tinkering – and inventing. And he understood the vital import of people with the capital to invest – to invest in inventing. “Washington recognized that experimentation was anathema to all but the most forward looking farmers. Instead, Washington believed that it was the responsibility of wealthy farmers to undertake experimentation, as failures would be inevitable and losses would have to be absorbed while new techniques were perfected.”
As my friend John Berlau exquisitely put it, “Washington was less a ‘gentleman farmer’ than an agricultural entrepreneur.” Washington was constantly looking to invent better ways to do things: “He tinkered ceaselessly but never aimlessly. A firm believer in experimentation, he tested tools with a view to their capacity to save labor and boost productivity. Among other cutting-edge technologies, he installed at Mount Vernon an advanced gristmill that allowed him to produce high-quality ‘G. Washington’ brand flour and even market it overseas.” Washington received a trademark for his flour – the better to protect his intellectual property with, both here and abroad. More