Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Dearborn, 5 June 1802

To Benjamin Dearborn

June 5 1802

Th: Jefferson presents his compliments to mr Dearborne and returns his Manuscript and his thanks for the opportunity of perusing it, which he has done with very great satisfaction. the observations of mr Dearborne suggested the following quaere in the case of the common beam as well as mr Dearborne’s. let any degree of strength, or of inflexibility, for a beam be given: would it not be better to procure that strength by an open-work, rather than a solid beam, inasmuch as it would be lighter. thus tho mr Dearborne applies a happy correction to this evil, yet the less there is to correct the better.

PrC (DLC).

Benjamin Dearborn (1754–1838) had operated schools in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Boston before opening a small factory for the manufacture of his many inventions, the most prominent of which was a portable balance for weighing, which he termed the vibrating steelyard and which earned a patent in 1799. In addition to his work with mechanical objects, Dearborn published manuals on the instruction of arithmetic, grammar, and music, and a proposal for the more humane treatment of debtors (Emma Forbes Waite, “Benjamin Dearborn: Teacher, Inventor, Philanthropist,” Old-Time New England, 52 [1951], 44–7).

Dearborn had been introduced to TJ in 1799, but it is not known when he shared a MANUSCRIPT with him. TJ was likely responding to material later published in Philadelphia in 1803 as The Patent Balance Compared with Other Instruments for Weighing, which proposed the adoption of Dearborn’s invention by Philadelphia’s public market. In Nov. 1802, TJ purchased a small steelyard from Dearborn for his personal use (MB description begins James A. Bear, Jr., and Lucia C. Stanton, eds., Jefferson’s Memorandum Books: Accounts, with Legal Records and Miscellany, 1767–1826, Princeton, 1997, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Second Series description ends , 2:1086; Vol. 30:617–8).

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