"Abraham Lincoln is the only U.S. president ever
to have patented an invention. At first, this seems little more than a useful
piece of historical trivia. And so it might be, except for Jason Emerson's
patient reconstruction of how Lincoln obtained his patent, invented his
ship-rescue device, and let his mind stray to the subject in the first place.
That solitary invention is a window into the mental geography of Abraham
Lincoln, a concentrated, unsentimental, unromantic, mathematically-precise
mind, teeming with self-taught curiosity about the inner causes and springs of
action -- whether of men or machines. You will come away from Lincoln the Inventor the wiser for understanding how the mind that
devised a patent for floating grounded river boats could also be the same mind
that turned out the perfectly-balanced phrases of the Gettysburg Address,
labored to promote transportation as the keystone to economic mobility, and
piloted emancipation through the shoals of war."
-- Allen C. Guelzo, author of Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates that
"Lincoln the Inventor is an excellent book presenting new information about Abraham Lincoln, providing still another example of his intellectual genius. This well-organized and thoroughly researched work adds to Jason Emerson's growing reputation as a young Lincoln scholar of note."
-- Richard W. Etulain, author of Beyond the Missouri: The Story of the American West
In addition to his other accomplishments, Abraham Lincoln
was the only U.S. president to hold a registered patent. Jason Emerson offers
the first treatment of Lincoln's invention of a device to buoy vessels over
shoals and its subsequent patent in May 1849 as more than mere historical
footnote. As Emerson demonstrates, Lincoln's scientific curiosity helped drive
his lifelong intellectual development and influenced his treatment of inventors
and innovators both as a lawyer and as president.
In this fresh contribution to the
field of Lincoln studies, Emerson shows how, when, where, and why Lincoln created
his invention and demonstrates how his penchant for inventions and discoveries
informed his political belief in internal improvements and free-labor
principles. Lincoln's interest in the topic led him to try his hand at
scholarly lecturing; later, as president, Lincoln encouraged and occasionally
contributed to the creation of new weapons for the Union.
During his extensive research, Emerson uncovered correspondence
between Lincoln's son Robert and his presidential secretary, John Nicolay, that
revealed the existence of a previously unknown draft of Abraham Lincoln's
lecture "Discoveries and Inventions" (the known draft of which is included in
this book). Emerson not only examines the creation, delivery, and legacy of
this lecture, but he also reveals for the first time how Robert Lincoln owned
this unknown version, how he lost and later tried to find it, the indifference
with which Robert and Nicolay both held the lecture, and the decision to give
it as little attention as possible when Nicolay and John Hay published
President Lincoln's collected works in 1894.
story of Lincoln's invention extends beyond a boat journey, the whittling of
some wood, and a trip to the Patent Office; the invention had ramifications for
Lincoln's life from the day his flatboat became stuck on a milldam in 1831
until the day he died in 1865. In addition to giving a complete examination of
this important yet little-known aspect of Lincoln's life, Emerson delves into
Lincoln's intellectual curiosity and creativity, both as a civilian and as
president, and considers how those traits contributed to his greatness and
allow new insight into his character. By learning to understand Lincoln the
inventor, readers will better understand Lincoln the man.