Tag Archives: Polygraph

Your clever device solves a BIG problem for me.

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 …”
CEO, President, RiverBarge Excursion Lines, New Orleans, LA
Mr. Jefferson will impress your audience!
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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.


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I like it! I’d also like this and this. Oh, and this, too.

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.”

“This was the third Blue & Gold Banquet I have attended,
and it was the only one that the 100 plus Scouts kept quiet and paid attention …”
Vice-President, Site Development Engineering, Inc.
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!
Invite them to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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You will spend time to save time.

the Polygraph lately invented in our country, & as yet little known   …[will] be forwarded to you by some vessel … your turn for mechanics will render pleasing to you those little attentions necessary in the use of the instrument. you are not one of those who will not take time to learn what will save time. I have used one the last 18. months, and can truly say that it is an inestimable invention … I inclose you directions for opening and setting it to work … [emphasis added]
To Edward Preble, July 6, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders invest time now to save time later.
In a recent post, Jefferson had received a valuable gift of wine from Commodore Preble. It set a bad precedent to keep it and might give offense to send it back. He solved his dilemma by sending Preble his favorite new invention, a copying machine known as a polygraph.

The polygraph was a complex instrument with multiple parts connected by joints and hinges. It took time and concentration to set up and calibrate before it would work properly.

I included this letter for the emphasized line. Some people would not invest time now to save time later. Preble was not one of those people. Neither was Jefferson.

“We thoroughly enjoyed Patrick’s program [as Jefferson]
and would highly recommend him to other groups.”
Executive Director, Kentucky Bar Association
If Mr. Jefferson can impress lawyers, he will certainly impress your audience!
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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A 210 year-old copy machine? Really?

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.

“We heard nothing but praise from the audience members.”
Washington State Association of Counties
Mr. Jefferson’s remarks will elicit praise from your audience, too.
Invite him to speak. Call Patrick Lee, 573-657-2739
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