"The fact is that one idea leads to another, that to a 3d, and so on thro' a course of time, until some one, with whom no one of these ideas was original, combines all together, and produces what is justly called a new invention"

- Thomas Jefferson, 1818

Inventions ... Innovations ... Gadgets ... Enlightened Entrepreneurs


Visitors to Monticello often think of Jefferson as an inventor, but he was really more of an innovator. Rather than creating original ideas, Jefferson generally improved upon or adapted items already in existence in novel ways. His three true inventions are the Moldboard Plow to till the soil, the Cipher Wheel to encode and decode messages, and the Zig-Zag Roof system to capture rainwater.


"I am not afraid of new inventions or improvements..."
Thomas Jefferson, 1810

Monticello was a laboratory for Jefferson's innovative adaptation of technology and design.



Jefferson experimented with technological improvements throughout his life and amassed a wide-ranging collection of gadgets and machines at Monticello.


Enlightened Entrepreneurs

"Nobody wishes more than I do that ingenuity should receive liberal encouragement"                                                                                                                                        Thomas Jefferson, 1807

Jefferson's writings reveal his lifelong promotion of invention and innovation, driven by his Age of Enlightenment belief that that the human condition could be continually improved. While Secretary of State, Jefferson granted the first American patent and his basic principles for granting copyrights remain in effect today. 


Explore Related Topics

Science & Exploration Check out the entries on science & exploration in the Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia
The Enlightenment First person-interpreter Bill Barker discusses Jefferson and the Enlightenment in this livestream