Tag Archives: Copy machine
Having determined never while in office to accept presents beyond a book or things of mere trifling value, I am sometimes placed in an embarrassing dilemma by persons whom a rejection would offend. in these cases I resort to counter-presents. your Polygraph, from it’s rarity & utility offers a handsome instrument of retribution to certain characters.
Thomas Jefferson to Charles Willson Peale, June 9, 1805
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders look for innovative ways to avoid giving offense.
It was common for people to give the President gifts. Some were simply expressions of gratitude while others may have been from people seeking favor. Either way, Jefferson would not accept anything of value, often returning the gift with a ‘thank you but I cannot accept.’ He would not be beholden to any gift giver.
Sometimes, though, to return a gift would give offense to the giver. Jefferson, usually sensitive to others’ opinions, hated giving offense. He found the answer in Peale’s marvelous copy machine, the polygraph. Jefferson owned several of these and was so delighted with them, he would commission one to give as a gift to donors whose sensitivities he wished to safeguard.
” … what a pleasure to have you entertain our guests …
[with your] … top-notch performance …”
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Mr. Jefferson will impress your audience!
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NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archive. It was accurate when this post was written. If the link is now wrong, search FoundersArchives.gov or call me. I’ll help you find it.
Passing as I do the active hours of my life in my study, I have found it essential to bring all the implements I use there within the narrowest compas possible; & in no case to lose a single inch of space which can be made to hold any thing. hence every thing is placed within my reach without getting out of my chair. on this principle I approve of the two drawers to the Polygraph proposed in your letter of the 25th … which would hold paper, pens, penknife, pencils, scissors, Etc. Etc. …
To Charles Willson Peale, November 28, 1804
P.S. Since writing my letter of this morning it has occurred to me …
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Efficient leaders appreciate advice in being even more efficient!
Previous posts detailed Jefferson’s delight in his polygraph, a personal copy machine. Philadelphia friend, artist and museum owner Peale was making two more, one ordered by the President for a friend and another for Jefferson’s use. Peale suggested the design of the polygraph case would allow for the addition of two storage drawers. Jefferson agreed!
Drawers would add to his efficiency, a matter of great interest to him. He wouldn’t have to leave his desk to get more supplies! Always the micro-manager when it came to his personal tastes, not only did he approve the drawers, but he also dictated their exact size, one “10⅜ I. square” and another “12⅜ I. by 6.” While he was at it, he suggested two other design changes.
If that weren’t enough, yet another modification came to mind later in the day. He rarely added postscripts to his letters, but he did this time. The proposed change would necessitate decreasing one dimension of each drawer “three quarters of an inch.”
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and it was the only one that the 100 plus Scouts kept quiet and paid attention …”
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If Daniel Boone (one of Jefferson’s speaking compatriots) can captivate 100 Boy Scouts,
they can certainly do the same for your audience of adults!
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I communicate to Congress, for their information, a report of the Surveyor of the public buildings at Washington, stating what has been done under the act of the last session concerning the city of Washington, on the Capitol and other public buildings and the highway between them.
To the Senate and House of Representatives of US, February 22, 1804
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Smart leaders embrace new technology.
The content this letter, reproduced in its entirety, has no particular significance. How it was written does. The notes accompanying this letter in the Founders Archives relate this was Jefferson’s “first recorded use of the polygraph machine.”
The polygraph was a copy machine. A wooden frame suspended two ink pens over two sheets of paper. The pens were held together by a series of wooden arms and hinges. When the writer wrote with one pen on one sheet, the other pen followed along, making an identical copy on the other sheet. Some polygraphs had three ink pens, some four. Jefferson found those difficult to keep in adjustment and used one with just two.
Jefferson, always intrigued with machines and inventions, loved the new device! He referred to it as “the finest invention of the present age.” Since he kept copies of all his correspondence, some 20,000 letters over a lifetime, the polygraph represented a major advance over the letter press. This letter was written on a borrowed polygraph. It would be 1806 before he owned one of his own.
“You were great to work with. I recommend you highly …”
VP-Operations, Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives
Does someone “great to work with” sound great to you?
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I believe that when you left America the invention of the Polygraph had not yet reached Boston. it is for copying with one pen while you write with the other … I think it the finest invention of the present age … knowing that you are in the habit of writing much … I have accordingly had one made [for you] … as a Secretary which copies for us what we write without the power of revealing it, I find it a most precious possession to a man in public business.
To James Bowdoin, July 10, 1806
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Far-sighted leaders promote new inventions.
Jefferson owned a polygraph, “the finest invention of the present age,” a device for making copies of letters. (Here’s another image, which better illustrates how it folded up for transport.) It consisted of two ink pens suspended over two sheets of paper. The pens were held together by a series of wooden arms and hinges. When one of the pens was lowered onto the paper to write, the second pen followed along and made an identical copy. There were polygraphs with three and four ink pens for making multiple copies, but they were more difficult to use.
He loved the polygraph for several reasons. He kept a copy of everything he wrote. It allowed him to make a copy without having a secretary duplicate one from his original. Thus, he could keep his correspondence private. The polygraph was portable, and he traveled regularly between Washington City and Monticello. Finally, he simply loved inventions and machines. (He tinkered with Hawkins’ design to make it work better!)
What a polygraph cost in 1806 is anyone’s guess, but for sure, it was not cheap. Jefferson loved his new device so much he had one made for Bowdoin, an American minister to Spain. One of the lesser factors in Jefferson’s ever-increasing debt was his tendency to shower gifts on his friends, whether he had the cash to pay for them or not.
While Jefferson was devoted to his polygraph, it was not a commercial success. It took too much adjustment to keep in proper working order. That was not a problem for a man who loved to tinker.
P.S. To prove his point, Jefferson added his own P.S. to this letter, telling Bowdoin he was reading the pages made from the copying pen, not from the pen he held in his hand.