Thomas Jefferson's interest in science extended to the use of steam as a source of power. Monticello researchers have compiled the following references to steam from Jefferson's correspondence. 


Primary Source References

1785 October 2. (Jefferson to Rev. James Madison). "You therein speak of a new method of raising water by steam which you suppose will come into general use. I know of no new method of that kind and suppose (as you say that the account you have received of it is very imperfect) that some person has represented to you as new a fire engine erected at Paris and which supplies the greater part of the town with water. But this is nothing more than the fire engine you have seen described in the books of Hydraulics and particularly in the dictionary of arts and sciences published in 8vo. ...."[1]

1786 April 22. (Jefferson to Charles Thomson). "One deserves particular notice, because it is simple, great, and likely to have extensive consequences. It is the application of steam as an agent for working grist mills. I have visited the one lately made here [London]. It was at that time turning eight pair of stones."[2]

1788 December 23. (Jefferson to Thomas Paine). "There is an Abbé Arnal at Nismes who has obtained an exclusive privilege for navigating the rivers of this country by the aid of the steam engine."[3]

1789 April 3. (Jefferson to Jean Baptiste LeRoy). "I return you with many thanks the Volume with D. Bernoulli’s paper which I have read with great satisfaction. I observe that the proposition of M. Bernoulli differs from Mr. Rumsey’s in several essential points. 1. His Water was to be raised by man: Rumsey’s by elastic vapour...."[4]

1813 April 10. (Jefferson to William Foushee). "You will be sensible that the inclosed proposition on the establishment of steam boats might as well have been addressed to the man in the moon, as to an inhabitant of the mountains. yet as such a boat between Norfolk & Richmond might be interesting to both places I have thought it a duty to give the proposition a fair chance by handing it on to a place where it will be more interesting."[5]

1815 December 29. (Jefferson to George Fleming). "Sir, it happens that of all the machines which have been employed to aid human labor, I have made my self the least acquainted with (that which is certainly the most powerful of all) the steam engine. ... I once had an idea that it might perhaps be possible to economize the steam of a common pot, kept boiling on the kitchen fire until it’s accumulation should be sufficient to give a stroke ...."[6]

Further Sources


  1. ^ PTJ, 8:574. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  2. ^ PTJ, 9:400. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  3. ^ PTJ, 14:374. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  4. ^ PTJ, 15:23. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  5. ^ PTJ:RS, 6:63. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  6. ^ PTJ:RS, 9:302-04. Transcription available at Founders Online.