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Hail to the (Science) Chief!

Hail to the (Science) Chief!

It's Presidents' Day and we decided to put a new spin on the national holiday by investigating which U.S. presidents were the most scientifically inclined. Here’s what we found:

  • George Washington – Interestingly, the enduring myth about young George and the cherry tree was eventually questioned because it didn’t hold up under scrutiny based on scientific research methodology. While the story of George confessing his misdeed to his father was a great morality tale about the importance of honesty, it was probably just that. What we do know is that Washington was passionate about agriculture and was part of the agricultural reform movement that utilized scientific innovation and experimentation to make farming in the United States more sustainable. 
  • Thomas Jefferson – America’s third president was well-known as a masterful scientific thinker who made significant contributions in many different areas of scientific inquiry. Not only was he a collector of scientific gadgets like orreries, dynamometers, theodolites, and green spectacles, but he was also an inventor. He created a moldboard plow and a macaroni machine and developed a wheel cipher and spherical sundial, among other innovations. Most famously, he helped commission the Lewis and Clark expedition, which accurately mapped the northwestern United States and identified more than 200 plant and animal species.
  • James Madison – Virginia’s James Madison invented a walking stick with a built-in microscope so he could inspect various lifeforms on the ground as he was walking, according to the book “Tinkerers” by Alec Foege.
  • Abraham Lincoln – People typically associate President Lincoln with the Civil War or the Emancipation Proclamation. But “Honest Abe” is also the only U.S. president who holds a patent in his own name. When he was a young man working on riverboats, Lincoln devised a way to lift boats with inflatable bellows, which was easier than unloading boats that had run aground or had snagged on an underwater obstacle.
  • Theodore Roosevelt – The wildly popular and vibrant Teddy Roosevelt had an incredibly curious and restless mind. He was an avid naturalist and outdoor enthusiast and published several books on those topics. He also established the U.S. Forest Service and created numerous bird sanctuaries, game preserves, national forests and national parks, ultimately protecting about 230 million acres of public land during his presidency. 
  • Jimmy Carter – With an undergraduate degree in engineering, President Jimmy Carter also did graduate work in nuclear physics. He helped NASA broaden its scope and supported the Space Shuttle, the Hubble Space Telescope, and the twin Voyager spacecrafts. To combat the energy crisis, he launched the U.S. Department of Energy, promoted research into alternative energy, and sponsored energy conservation policies to reduce America's reliance on imported oil.

Tell us: do you know of any more presidents who were scientifically inclined? 


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