Peter Cooper Inventions and Accomplishments


Born in the 18th century and known for his beard as much as his philanthropic ideas, he was the son of a hatmaker who initially worked as a grocer and a cabinet maker before following the entrepreneurial spirit that burned inside of him. His business ventures began in 1821 when he purchased a glue factory for $2,000 and turned it into a yearly profit of $10,000 annually within 24 months. He’s also known for being the oldest person ever nominated to be President of the United States, running on the 1876 ticket at the age of 85.

There were a number of inventions that Cooper conceived that helped lead to his success. Here is a brief look at what his inventive spirit was able to create.

The Tom Thumb

The one invention of Cooper that everyone tends to know about is the Tom Thumb. It was the first steam locomotive that was produced in the United States and helped bring about the revolution of the railroad in the country.

Cooper Union

Even though Peter Cooper was wealthy from his business ventures, he felt like his city needed to be able to better support each other. He was one of the first to campaign for police and fire officials to be paid. He advocated for public schools and improvements in public sanitation efforts in the city. The outcome of these efforts was the creation of Cooper Union, which offered free classes in art, engineering, and science.

Sharpened Axes

For a decade after the War of 1812, Cooper ran a grocery and general store. It wasn’t exactly a passion of his, but he was successful with it and innovated the concept of selling axes that were sharpened so people could take them home to use them. It seems like a simple idea, but at the time, most stores were only selling axes that needed to be sharpened.

Rolling Steel

In 1828, Cooper bought some land in Baltimore because he expected to be able to turn it into a profit just be re-selling it later on. After a year, however, he discovers that the overseer of the land has done nothing with it and that he’s got no easy way to transport anything to or from the parcels. An engineer takes a look at the area and suggests Cooper get into the iron business because of the ore in the land. To accomplish this, Cooper invented a method of rolling steel to make rails for trolleys. The steel beams that came from this land were put into America’s first skyscrapers.

The Remote Controlled Torpedo

A war is raging between Germany and Turkey and Cooper wants to stop it. He takes the concepts of the steam engine from his Tom Thumb and creates a steam boat that sits on the surface of the water, but is loaded with explosives. The rudder of the ship is controlled by cables from the shore and would allow for an attack on boats or shores from some distance without risking the lives of sailors.

Transportation Through the Years