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.