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Thomas Jefferson’s Portable Desk

Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence on a little portable folding desk that he designed.

Thomas Jefferson stated, “It claims no merit of particular beauty.  It is plain, neat, convenient, and taking no more room on the table than a moderate quarto volume, it yet displays it sufficiently for any writing.”  Jefferson would have loved today’s laptops.

Jefferson’s desk was constructed with great precision.  A tilted stand rose to support paper and pen.  A tiny drawer located on the side held his writing materials.  Jefferson had a cabinetmaker in Philedephia build the little desk from mahogany.  Jefferson rented a room from the cabinetmaker while attending the Continental Congress.

Jefferson’s little desk was portable, light, flexible and tailored to fit the owner.  His desk was a model of what American products were to become.  Jefferson kept his desk for fifty years.  He took the desk to France and to the White House. 

Jefferson’s desk may have held several sheets of his beloved graph paper.  He used the graph paper in his architectural drawings.  The desk was composed of neat and specific compartments.  Here is a list he made of the contents of one of his desks:

wafers, sealing wax, seal, hair…shaving brush, ink phial, ink pot, dividers, drawpens, pencil, rubber, thermometer, magnetic needle, scissors, knife, whetstone, scale, razor strap, razors, toothbrushes, comb, night cap, rind dial, damping brush, scales, monetary steelyards, tape measure…

Resources:

Gedini, Silvio A., Thomas Jefferson and His Copying Machines, University of Virginia Press, 1984.

Patton, Phil, Made in the USA, Penquin Group USA, 1992.

Willis, Garry, Inventing America:  Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, Doubleday, 1978.

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  1. lauralu

    On June 9, 2012 at 12:27 pm


    Interesting post thanks ^_^

  2. Chris Bailie

    On June 9, 2012 at 12:43 pm


    Great share and very interesting, thank you.

  3. momofplenty

    On June 9, 2012 at 1:24 pm


    Wow… I would love to have a tylor made desk as such. Jefferson was brilliant….
    Great article, as always.

  4. KittyK

    On June 9, 2012 at 7:24 pm


    Certainly, a brilliant man with exquisite taste…

  5. Kharla Jolly

    On June 9, 2012 at 7:24 pm


    Now, people use backpacks and briefcases. His portable table was unique, with everything he needed in one small item. It’s no wonder he made it into the history books!

  6. girishpuri

    On June 9, 2012 at 10:11 pm


    very interesting share

  7. sabanawaz

    On June 10, 2012 at 2:24 am


    interesting share

  8. h20ho

    On June 12, 2012 at 11:28 am


    He was such a great man.
    Thanks for this

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