Every school-age child is imbued with a story from the American Revolution that glorifies the great political, military, and social achievements of the famous founding fathers. We learn that George Washington; The Father of the United States was a great military leader, farmer, politician, and stoic face of the revolutionary movement. Benjamin Franklin was an inventor, publisher, diplomat, self-made millionaire, and a boldly wise man. John Adams was a wonderful storyteller, writer, philosopher, and courageous leader.

While we know a lot about these and many other great pioneering founders, we have lost a lot of knowledge of the flavor and the contributions they made to improving everyday life in colonial times. And consequently, we have lost an example that can be so easily transferred to our modern world. These amazing men invented and improved according to the needs they faced in a pre-industrial age.

Washington, for example, was a wonderful brewmaster and produced a highly desired whiskey. He traded his beer very profitably and was much admired in Europe for the quality of his grain whiskey. Bartering him with European merchants for trade goods was one of the first examples of ongoing international trade between the colonies and Europe.

Yet of the famous men of the revolution, none was as captivating, diverse, complete, and brilliant as Thomas Jefferson; farmer, educator, statesman, politician, and practical inventor. We know that Jefferson was the founder of the University of Virginia, principal author of the Declaration of Independence, Secretary of State, two-term President, and builder of Monticello. Today he is mostly forgotten as an inventor. And yet, Jefferson’s contributions as an inventor were the most significant in his time and a wonderful example applicable to our day.

Thomas Jefferson created products, inventions, and improvements based on the practical needs of his environment. As a dedicated and studious farmer, he constantly sought to improve crop yields. During his diplomatic work in Europe, he was introduced to the Dutch mouldboard plough. When he saw the device in use, he noted that it was unwieldy and not as utilitarian as it should be. However, he saw the germ of an idea and worked to improve it. The result was the redesigned lower-drag moldboard plow. This advanced plow enabled 18th-century farmers to plow the land deeper and easier and preserve valuable seeds, thereby increasing crop yields and profitability.

While serving as Secretary of State, Jefferson was vexed by the necessity and difficulty of maintaining diplomatic and military secrets. His answer was the ingenious Wheel Cipher. Made of wood, with 26 rotating bands (one for each letter of the alphabet), it became the world’s most advanced method of transporting and protecting state secrets.

A visitor to Monticello is exposed to several of Thomas Jefferson’s most practical inventions; many in use to this day. The Great Clock, invented without a minute hand, is still on display. To set the clock, Jefferson invented a folding ladder, which is still used in libraries around the world. He invented a great sundial that remains an engineering marvel. The beds in the house are cleverly hung from ropes that allowed them to be raised and lowered to increase living space when not in use. On either side of the large fireplace in the living room are freight elevators. These were used for servants to send wine and provisions without physically appearing.

As a man of the pen, Jefferson read continually, in deep thought, preferring to work in silence. To facilitate his work habits, he created the swivel chair as a means to maximize his productivity. The ability to rotate, which we take for granted today, was revolutionary and allowed the user to access multiple workspaces and additional material from a single point of control.

The revolving music stand was a similar invention. This ingeniously simple device allowed Jefferson to work with multiple books and reference materials simultaneously from a multi-shelf tilting easel revolving stand. The ability to convincingly and timely study and compare literature is again something we take for granted, but it was a major improvement in the 18th century.

Thomas Jefferson was especially proud of the Portable Copy Press that he designed. This small, inconspicuous press allowed him to make multiple copies of important documents while he traveled Europe as a diplomat. People were amazed with the facilities and functionality of the machine. Almost as famous as the Portable Copy Press was the custom travel case to transport the unit. Essentially, it was the first portable office with compartments for pens, ink, assorted supplies, and even a nightcap.

The genius of Thomas Jefferson, and so many of his contemporaries, was his ability to create practical devices that improved his circumstances and those of his society. The created things they needed. Profit was not his main motivation. They were driven by the need for more functional products that would enhance their ability to be more productive.

This is advice I give almost daily in my consulting business. Many people dream of inventing the next Post-It Note, paper cutter, zipper, or clay. The successful inventors, entrepreneurs, and small business owners I have worked with always do so because they respond to a need by providing a product or service with better features and benefits. Invariably, these breakthroughs stem from your life experience, be it at work, hobby, or home.

Focusing on what we each know and live on a daily basis is the best path to business business success. Washington, Franklin, and Jefferson invented valuable things for your world. That model works just as well today.

Feel free to contact me to discuss this item or a project you may be considering. The opportunity to succeed as an entrepreneur has never been greater. Learn the lessons of history. Contact the author, Geoff Ficke at http://www.DuquesaMarketing.com, 407 260 1127 for a free, no-obligation consultation.

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