On April 29, 1962 at a dinner honoring the the Nobel Prize winners of the western hemisphere, President John F. Kennedy remarked,
“I want to tell you how welcome you are to the White House. I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”
This past Friday, we celebrated Thomas Jefferson’s
274th birthday. He was born on April 13, 1743, in Virginia and died on July 4, 1826 on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Jefferson is best known for his role in writing the Declaration of Independence, his foreign service, his two terms as president, and his omnipresent face on the modern nickel.
But he was far more than that the third president of the United States. He was a Renaissance man pursuing knowledge like few others before or since.
Here are some interesting facts about Jefferson’s pursuit of knowledge:
Thomas Jefferson loved books. After his retirement, he sold his library of 6,500 volumes to the Library of Congress after it was ransacked by the British. Jefferson needed the cash to pay off debts, but he started buying more books. “I cannot live without books,” he told John Adams.
Jefferson was deeply engaged in economic theory, which he learned to love during his time in France.
He was a friend and translator to leading European theorists; he believed in the free market policies; and he opposed bank notes as currency.
Jefferson designed the rotunda for the University of Virginia, his own home at Monticello, and the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond.
Jefferson had two vineyards at Monticello, which he apparently used to experiment with. Acknowledged as a great wine expert of early America, he sought to promote wine as an alternative to whiskey and cider.
He believed in the United States as an agrarian society, in part, because it would make the nation independent from other nations. He was one of the first American farmers to employ crop rotation and redesigned the plow to make it more efficient.
Jefferson loved stargazing almost as much as he liked books. He made sure astronomy was taught at the University of Virginia, and he designed what may have been the first observatory in the United States.
A prolific writer during his lifetime, with his authorship of the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, The Library of Congress includes about 27,000 of his documents, including his extensive correspondence with key historical figures.
He was an accomplished chess player and musician, playing the violin among other instruments, beginning as a child.
Jefferson, the consummate inventor, created the iron plow, the swivel chair, the dumb-waiter, the pedometer, the polygraph (which was a copying machine that replicated letters not the lie detector), the great clock which was the first to tell the time of day, a macaroni making device, the portable writing desk, the revolving book stand, automatic opening doors, a wheel cipher that coded and decoded messages, and the folding ladder, among a great many others.