America’s founding fathers are immortalized in the history books for the role they played in creating the United States as we know it. But the stories a lot of people hear about them are truncated ones. Generally, we hear about the founding fathers’ role in the American Revolution, a few other bullet points, and little else outside of that. However, that narrow focus sells these legendary figures short. There are a lot of other interesting facts that are often left out of every basic history class. And our third president is no exception. Here are some interesting facts about Thomas Jefferson you might not know.
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15 Facts About Thomas Jefferson
1. Jefferson was fascinated by paleontology.
Even Jefferson’s detractors in life recognized him as a true man of science, and one of his largest interests was in prehistoric life. In particular, he was described as “obsessed” with American mastodons, the precursor to modern elephants. Apparently, he enjoyed talking about them to anyone who would listen. He also spent a small fortune to have mastodon teeth and tusks sent to him.
One amusing anecdote is that Jefferson was also convinced that mammoths and other prehistoric megafauna were still living in the uncharted West. The third president even reportedly expected to see records of these creatures when Lewis and Clark made their famous expedition.
2. He was a notable inventor.
Jefferson created a number of different devices, some of which we still use today. One of the more memorable creations is the dumb waiter, a machine used until the 20th century to transport food and wine between floors. He also created a revolving bookcase and even a machine to create macaroni pasta!
3. He was a budding architect.
Those who have visited the grounds of his iconic Monticello home in Virginia may not realize that the structure designed, in part, by Jefferson himself over a 40-year period. However, Jefferson also had a hand in building other structures that we still see today, like the rotunda at the University of Virginia and even the State Capitol in Richmond.
4. He was a true food and wine connoisseur.
Jefferson spent a lot of time in France, and one of the things he brought with him was an appreciation for fine food and wine. In fact, he told his slave James Hemings that if he was able to learn to cook French cuisine while abroad, he would be freed when they got back to America.
5. Jefferson masterminded the Louisiana Purchase to avoid war.
After the right to store goods in New Orleans without export taxes was revoked, many people talked of war. Napoleon’s army was busy with a Haitian revolution at the time, which further emboldened a lot of this talk. However, at the suggestion of a French friend, Jefferson opted to try and buy some land from Napoleon instead. He didn’t expect Napoleon to offer the entire territory.
6. He changed American farming.
Jefferson felt that being an agrarian society would help separate the U.S from other countries. To this end, he redesigned the plow and created the concept of crop rotation.
7. He loved astronomy.
Stargazing was also a part of Jefferson’s great love of science, and he ensured a program was started at the University of Virginia for astronomy. He may have also masterminded the creation of the country’s first observatory.
8. His attitude toward slavery was a bit confusing (to say the least).
As founding fathers go, Jefferson seemed to be one of the more anti-slavery-leaning figures, writing against it several times. However, as the descendant of a plantation family, he owned up to 200 slaves in his lifetime. The hypocrisy of his stance has long been debated.
9. Jefferson wasn’t a particularly sharp dresser.
As President, many people were upset with Jefferson for not presenting the polished appearance they deemed appropriate of the job title. He was often spotted wearing common clothes and riding a horse rather than using a conventional carriage.
10. The Declaration of Independence was not the first draft.
While Jefferson created the legendary document, it also spent 2 days in revisions. When Jefferson saw the changes made, including toning down some of his rhetoric against slavery and the British, he was furious. Ben Franklin was able to calm Jefferson down and get the final document made.
11. He was a poor public speaker.
A president that can’t speak in public seems like an oxymoron these days, but records show he had a low speaking voice and trouble communicating verbally. He preferred getting his thoughts across by using the written word.
12. He was a redhead.
The classic pictures we see in history books don’t depict Jefferson’s true hair color, but this was by design. Wigs and powders that made your hair look white were in style at the time.
13. He helped popularize ice cream in America.
Jefferson didn’t invent ice cream, nor was he the first person to bring it over from France. However, a person of his prominence enjoying it counted for a lot. He also had special tools imported to create it easier. He even had his own recipe.
14. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died on the same day–July 4th, 1826.
While they would become political adversaries after their days as founding fathers, the two men had great respect for each other later in life, and would later rekindle their friendship. When Adams passed, his final words were “Thomas Jefferson still survives,” but Jefferson had, in fact, passed 5 hours before.
15. His book collection would make anyone jealous.
During his lifetime, Jefferson had one of the largest book collections in the country. In 1814, the British looted the Library of Congress as a part of their raid on the capital, so Jefferson offered his personal collection to replace it. It contained 6,500 volumes.
Did you like these facts about Thomas Jefferson? Want to test your presidential knowledge further? Here are some president-themed quizzes: