In honor of President’s Day, we’re looking back at a few noteworthy presidents and how they had an influence on technological innovations. From patents to aeronautics, presidents have pushed for true innovation in many segments through technology, and here are just a few of our favorites:
- Setting the bar high from the beginning: As the first president of the United States, George Washington was an advocate for the development of the steamboat – largely hailed as America’s first disruptive technology. In 1784, James Rumsey “discovered the art of working boats by mechanism,” and Washington advocated for it in the Senate. Crazy to think that this invention took place so long ago—and that George Washington helped promote this discovery “of vast importance”.
- President has a patent: Abraham Lincoln was the only president to receive a patent himself. At the time, Congressman Lincoln received Patent #6469 for "A Device for Buoying Vessels Over Shoals" on May 22, 1849. Lincoln had an interest in mechanics; William H. Herndon, his law partner, said that "he evinced a decided bent toward machinery or mechanical appliances, a trait he doubtless inherited from his father, who was himself something of a mechanic.” Who knew he was not only a president, but a mechanic too!
- An advocate for new technology: President Woodrow Wilson always advocated for advancements in technology, leading to the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914, the invention of the air mail service, and an endorsement of the highway system. He also bought one of the first typewriters and was a supporter of live radio broadcasting and the movie industry. He also took interest in aeronautics, leading him to establish the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, which we now know of as NASA.
- A president & an engineer: Herbert Hoover himself graduated from Stanford University in 1895 with a B.A. in Mining Engineering (not bad, eh?). He put his studies to good use during the presidency, and in the early 1900s, represented the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in Europe, an exposition celebrating a great engineering feat-- the completion of the Panama Canal.
We tend to remember presidents by noting the policies and social changes they enacted—but let’s not forget the support and dedication these presidents gave to innovation.