Lincoln: The Man, the President, the Inventor

By Alex Snyder, Defense Media Activity

Abraham Lincoln, the famed 16th President of the United States. He was born on this day, Feb. 12, in 1809. White House photo


Although the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, is best known for abolishing slavery and keeping the United States together through the Civil War, he also was a huge supporter of science, and is the only U.S. president to have been awarded a patent.

His invention? A device called “Buoying Vessels Over Shoals,” intended to help boats navigate shallow waters by using sturdy waterproof fabric chambers that could be inflated when it was obvious a ship was close to becoming stuck. The air pockets would lift the watercraft above the surface of the water, providing enough clearance to avoid crashing or stranding.

His patent, number 6469, along with a scale model of a ship outfitted with Lincoln’s invention, is on display at the Smithsonian Institution. His invention was never manufactured, and Lincoln’s career as an inventor was short-lived. However, he continued to assist innovators as a politician.

Lincoln signed the Morrill Act in 1862, creating a system of land-grant colleges and universities that revolutionized higher education in the United States.

Notable land-grant institutions include the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cornell University, the University of Florida and Ohio State University.

Lincoln also chartered the National Academy of Sciences in 1863, establishing the body that advises Congress and the president about science and technology matters to this day.


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