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Lincoln the Inventor

Lincoln the Inventor

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Jason Emerson


116 pages, 5 x 8, 12 illustrations

Concise Lincoln Library


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About the Book

The book that inspired the popular Concise Lincoln Library series

In April 1831, on a flatboat grounded on the Rutledge milldam below the town of New Salem, Abraham Lincoln worked to pry the boat loose, directed the crew, and ran into the village to borrow an auger to bore a hole in the end hanging over the dam, causing the water to drain and the boat to float free. Seventeen years later, while traveling home from a round of political speeches, Lincoln witnessed another similar occurrence. For the rest of his journey, he considered how to construct a device to free stranded boats from shallow waters.

In this first thorough examination of Abraham Lincoln’s mechanical mind, Jason Emerson brings forth the complete story of Lincoln’s invention and patent as more than mere historical footnote. Emerson shows how, when, where, and why Lincoln developed his invention; how his penchant for inventions and innovation was part of his larger political belief in internal improvements and free labor principles; how his interest in the topic led him to try his hand at scholarly lecturing; and how Lincoln, as president, encouraged and even contributed to the creation of new weapons for the Union during the Civil War.

Lincoln the Inventor delves into the ramifications of Lincoln’s intellectual curiosity and inventiveness, both as a civilian and as president, and considers how they  allow a fresh insight into his overall character and contributed in no small way to his greatness. By understanding Lincoln the inventor, we better understand Lincoln the man.


Jason Emerson is a journalist and an independent historian who has been researching and writing about the Lincoln family for more than twenty-five years. His works include Mary Lincoln for the Ages; The Madness of Mary LincolnGiant in the Shadows: The Life of Robert T. LincolnMary Lincoln’s Insanity Case: A Documentary History; and Lincoln’s Lover: Mary Lincoln in Poetry.


“With the care and precision of an expert, Jason Emerson brings to light a vitally important and deeply revealing side of our greatest president. Most people know Lincoln for his political writings, pronouncements, and speeches; few know him as an inventor and imaginative technological thinker.”—Mark Fiege, author of The Republic of Nature: An Environmental History of the United States
“This is an elegant and fascinating exploration into the scientific mind of one of America's greatest presidents. Emerson illuminates how Lincoln's lifelong intellectual curiosity and academic pursuits on discoveries and inventions buoyed his historic leadership in law, politics, war, statecraft, and technological advancement. With fresh knowledge and insights, Emerson broadens our understanding of Lincoln as both moral and mechanical engineer of our nation.”—Michelle Malkin, author of Who Built That: Awe-Inspiring Stories of American Tinkerpreneurs

Lincoln the Inventor is an excellent book presenting new information about Abraham Lincoln, providing still another example of his intellectual genius. This well-organized and thoroughly researched work adds to Jason Emerson’s growing reputation as a young Lincoln scholar of note.”—Richard W. Etulain, author of Beyond the Missouri: The Story of the American West

“You will come away from Lincoln the Inventor the wiser for understanding how the mind that devised a patent for floating grounded river boats could also be the same mind that turned out the perfectly-balanced phrases of the Gettysburg Address, labored to promote transportation as the keystone to economic mobility, and piloted emancipation through the shoals of war.”—Allen C. Guelzo, author of Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates that Defined America