Farm Collector

Peter Cooper Celebration Sought

By Staff

We recently received a letter from Thomas F. Schweitzer, of
89-19 218 Street, Queens Village, Long Island, New York 11427. The
letter was a photocopy of one sent by a group called Long
Islanders: Enthusiasts of Long Island History, to the governors of
Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. In the letter, Mr.
Schweitzer asks that a year-long commission be established to
celebrate the 200th anniversary of the 1791 birth of Peter

For the benefit of our readers, we are reprinting an entry from
the 1910 edition of The Encyclopedia Britannica which highlights
Cooper’s accomplishments. The Long Islanders are also trying to
have a stamp issued in Cooper’s honor in 1991.

Peter Cooper (1791-1883), American manufacturer, inventor and
philanthropist, was born in New York City on the 12th of February
1791. He received practically no schooling, but worked with his
father at hat-making in New York City, at brewing in Peekskill, at
brick-making in Catskill, and again at brewing in Newburgh. At
seventeen he was apprenticed to a coach-builder in New York City.
On coming of age he was employed at Hempstead, Long Island, making
machines for shearing cloth; three years afterwards he set up in
this business for himself, having bought the sole right to
manufacture such machinery in the state of New York. Business
prospered during the War of 1812, but fell off after the peace. He
turned his shop into a furniture factory; soon sold this and for a
short time was engaged in the grocery business on the site of the
present Bible House, opposite Cooper Union; and then invested in a
glue and isinglass factory, situated for twenty-one years in
Manhattan (where the Park Avenue Hotel was built later) and then in
Brooklyn. About 1828 he built the Canton Iron Works in Baltimore,
Maryland, the foundation of his great fortune. The Baltimore &
Ohio railway was to cross his property, and, after various
inventions aiming to do away with the locomotive crank and thus
save two-fifths of the steam, in 1830 he designed and constructed
(largely after plans made two years before) the first steam
locomotive built in America; though only a small model it proved
the practicability of using steam power for working that line. The
‘Tom Thumb’, as Cooper called the locomotive, was about the
size of a modern hand-car; as the natural draft was far from
sufficient, Cooper devised a blowing apparatus. Selling his
Baltimore works, he built, in 1836, in partnership with his brother
Thomas, a rolling mill in New York; in 1845 he removed it to
Trenton, New Jersey, where iron structural beams were first made in
1854 and the Bessemer process first tried in America in 1856; at
Philipsburg, New Jersey, he built the largest blast furnace in the
country at that time. He built other foundries at Ringwood, New
Jersey, and at Durham, Pennsylvania; bought iron mines in northern
New Jersey, and carried the ore thence by railways to his mills.
Actively interested with Cyrus Field in the laying of the first
Atlantic cable, he was president of the New York, New found land
& London Telegraph Company, and his frequent cash advances made
the success of the company possible; he was president of the North
American Telegraph Company also, which controlled more than
one-half of the telegraph lines of the United States. For his work
in advancing the iron trade he received the Bessemer gold medal
from the Iron and Steel Institute of Great Britain in 1879. He took
a prominent part in educational affairs, strongly opposed the Roman
Catholic claims for public funds for parochial schools, and
conducted the campaign of the Free School Society to its successful
issue in 1842, when a state law was passed forbidding the support
from public funds of any ‘religious sectarian doctrine.’ He
is probably best known, however, as the founder of the Cooper
Union. Cooper was an early advocate of the emancipation and the
enlistment in the Union Army of Southern negroes, and he upheld the
administration of Lincoln. Though he had been a hard-money
Democrat, he joined the Greenback party after the Civil War, and in
1876 was its candidate for the presidency, but received only 81,740
out of the 8,412,833 votes cast. He died in New York City on the
4th of April 1883.

  • Published on Jul 1, 1990
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