In honor of President’s Day, we’re looking back at a few noteworthy presidents and their influence on technological innovations. From patents to aeronautics, presidents have pushed for disruption in many segments through technology. Here are a few of our favorites.
- A high bar 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.
- A president with a patent: Abraham Lincoln was the only president to receive a patent. 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: “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.”
- An advocate for new technology: President Woodrow Wilson’s constant advocacy for advancement resulted in the opening of the Panama Canal, the invention of airmail 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. His interest in aeronautics led him to establish the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, which we now know of as NASA.
- A president and 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.