Secret STEM Lives of the Founding Fathers: Thomas Jefferson

by | Jan 21, 2013 | STEM Education Info

This is the second part in the blog series “The Secret Stem Lives Of The Founding Fathers” focusing on the incredible hands-on STEM projects that led to some widely used inventions today. (Part 1: George Washington) 

Part 2: Thomas Jefferson Inventions

Washington, Jefferson, Franklin. All of these men are known as founding fathers of the United States of America. While they will always be known most for their political accomplishments, these men invented more than America. As innovators and keen utilizers of hands-on STEM, they can all be accredited for some fine contributions for the world.

Thomas Jefferson is known as the author of the Declaration of Independence and as the second President of the United States. But what other note-worthy things has Jefferson done?

Swivels and Codes and Plows, Oh My

A man who believed in hands-on STEM study and invention, he is the creator of several devices and products still in use today. The Thomas Jefferson inventions list includes technologies still in use today:

Swivel Chair

Perhaps you’re reading this post from a comfy swivel chair. Well, guess what? Mr. Jefferson made that! Utilizing his knowledge of math and physics, he crafted the very first swivel chair, which he used while drafting the Declaration. The seat and legs of the chair were separated by an iron spindle, enabling full rotation of the chair.

Cypher Wheel

While he worked as Secretary of State, he created the first known cypher wheel to keep messages coded and secret among the department. Jefferson put disks with letters etched in varying sequences onto a rod. The disks could be put in any order and whoever shared the wheel could unlock a secret message by understanding a specific sequence of letters and then twisting the disks in a particular order. Jefferson used this to encode messages that were for certain people only. The cypher wheel would later become used for military tactics during many wars.


Thomas Jefferson was a farmer in the Virginia hillside. Like most all farmers at the time, Jefferson used a traditional plow head until he saw how ineffective it was on his soil. With help from his partner and son-in-law, he drew up a model for a new plow head designed specifically for effectiveness on the hillside farms of Virginia. His idea stemmed from the 90-degree angle, mixing his understanding of his land, farming, and math to create a device that cooperates with his field soil more effectively.

Thomas Jefferson’s hands-on STEM projects lead to some great inventions that are still practiced today, proving he is more than a founding father. Stratostar appreciates Jefferson for not only giving us our swivels chairs but for showing us that STEM projects can be done by anyone, no matter what they are known for. Next week we take a look at the hefty list of inventions that Benjamin Franklin gave to the world. Stay tuned for another fascinating post on the outlying contributions of the founding fathers!