Lincoln’s Popular Speech on “Discoveries, Inventions, and Improvements”

(p. 322) Lincoln, the only American president ever awarded a patent, had a long and passionate love for things mechanical. He made his living for many years as a railroad lawyer and appears to have absorbed something of the fascination with machines, and with steam, of the engineers with whom he worked. . . .     . . . , in 1859, after his loss in the Illinois senatorial race against Stephen Douglas, he was much in demand for a speech entitled “Discoveries, Inventions, and Improvements” that he gave at agricultural fairs, schools, and self-improvement societies.

The speech–decidedly not one of Lincoln’s best–nonetheless revealed an enthusiasm for mechanical innovation that resonates (p. 323) powerfully even today. “Man,” Lincoln said, “is not the only animal who labors, but he is the only one who improves his workmanship . . . by Discoveries and Inventions.”

Rosen, William. The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention. New York: Random House, 2010.
(Note: italics and last ellipsis in original; other ellipses added.)

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