Peter Cooper

Peter Cooper

Infobox Person
name = Peter Cooper

image_size = 210px
caption = Peter Cooper
birth_date = birth date|1791|2|12|mf=y
birth_place = New York, New York, U.S.
death_date = death date and age|1883|4|4|1791|2|12|mf=y
death_place =
occupation = Industrialist, Inventor, Philanthropist
spouse = Sarah Cooper
parents =
children =

Peter Cooper (February 12, 1791 – April 4, 1883) was an American industrialist, inventor, philanthropist, and candidate for President of the United States.


Peter Cooper was born in New York City, the son of Dutch descendants. He had little formal schooling and worked in the family trade of hatmaking. He then worked as a coachmaker's apprentice, cabinet maker, grocer and was involved in the manufacturing and selling of cloth-shearing machines. He designed and built the first locomotive in the United States, the Tom Thumb.

In 2006, he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.


In about 1828, he started a successful glue and isinglass factory in New York, before building the Canton Iron Works near Baltimore in 1830. There he manufactured the first steam powered railroad locomotive made in America, which was called "Tom Thumb". The engine ran successfully on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad on August 28, 1830.

He then erected a rolling mill and an iron mill in New York City, where he was the first to successfully use anthracite coal to puddle iron. In 1845, he moved his machinery to Trenton, New Jersey, where he built the largest rolling-mill in the United States for producing railroad iron. In 1854, Trenton Iron Company, which was run by Cooper's son, Edward Cooper, and his son-in-law, Abram S. Hewitt, produced the first structural wrought iron beams.


In 1840, he became an alderman in New York City. As a prosperous businessman, he conceived of the idea of having a free institute in New York, similar to the École Polytechnique (Polytechnical School) in Paris. He erected a building and endowed art schools, spending between $600,000 and $700,000, for preparing young men and women of the working classes for business. In 1858, he presented the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art to the City of New York.

In 1854, Cooper was one of five men who met at the house of Cyrus West Field and formed the New York, Newfoundland and London Telegraph Company. He was among those supervising the laying of the first Transatlantic telegraph cable in 1858. He also patented the first gelatin dessert, which later became better known by the brand name Jell-O.

Prior to the Civil War, Cooper was active in the anti-slavery movement and promoted the application of Christian concepts to solve social injustice. He was a strong supporter of the Union cause during the American Civil War and an advocate of the government issue of paper money.

Influenced by the writings of Lydia Maria Child, Cooper became involved in the Indian reform movement, organizing the privately funded United States Indian Commission. This organization, whose members included William E. Dodge and Henry Ward Beecher, was dedicated to the protection and elevation of Native Americans in the United States and the elimination of warfare in the western territories. Cooper's efforts led to the formation of the Board of Indian Commissioners, which oversaw Ulysses S. Grant's Peace Policy. Between 1870 and 1875, Cooper sponsored Indian delegations to Washington D.C., New York City, and other Eastern cities. These delegations met with Indian rights advocates and addressed the public on United States Indian policy. Speakers included: Red Cloud, Little Raven and Alfred B. Meacham and a delegation of Modoc and Klamath Indians.

Cooper was an ardent critic of the gold standard and the debt-based monetary system of bank currency. Throughout the depression from 1873-78, he said that usury was the foremost political problem of the day. He strongly advocated a credit-based, Government-issued currency of United States Notes. He outlined his ideas in his 1883 book [ "Ideas for a Science of Good Government"]

Presidential candidacy

Cooper was encouraged to run in the 1876 presidential election for the Greenback Party without any hope of being elected. His running mate was Samuel Fenton Cary. The campaign cost more than $25,000.

The election was won by Rutherford Birchard Hayes of the Republican Party. Cooper was surpassed by another unsuccessful candidate: Samuel Jones Tilden of the Democratic Party.


Peter Cooper died on April 4, 1883. He died at the age of 92. He is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.


* In 1845, Cooper was awarded a patent for a gelatin dessert. In 1897, Pearl B. Wait began marketing Jell-O.
* In 1943, a United States Liberty ship named the SS "Peter Cooper" was launched. It was renamed the SS "Samarkand" after being loaned to the British. In 1971, the ship was scrapped.
* His son, Edward Cooper, was Mayor of New York City from 1879 to 1880.
* New York's Peter Cooper Village was named in his honor.
* Cooper learned finance under Albert Gallatin, who was Secretary of the Treasury from 1801-14. He was also Vice-President of the New York Board of Currency for a while. As a result, Cooper wrote much about financial topics. One of his more interesting assertions was in his 1883 book "Ideas for a Science of Good Government", in which he claimed that the prime cause of the American Revolution was Parliament's outlawing of the Colonial Scrip currency in 1764, which caused an economic depression by outlawing the medium of exchange and created widespread dissatisfaction. Cooper writes:

"After Franklin had explained…to the British Government as the real cause of prosperity, they immediately passed laws, forbidding the payment of taxes in that money. This produced such great inconvenience and misery to the people, that it was the principal cause of the Revolution. A far greater reason for a general uprising, than the Tea and Stamp Act, was the taking away of the paper money." []


*cite web|url=|title=Cooper, Peter|work=Mechanical Engineering Biographies Throughout Time|publisher=ASME|accessdate=2008-05-01

External links

* [ Comprehensive Biography by Nathan C. Walker]
* [ Facts About Peter Cooper and The Cooper Union]
* [ Brief biography]
* [ Find-A-Grave profile for Peter Cooper]
* [ Ideas for a Science of Good Government] Addresses, Letters and Articles by Peter Cooper
* [ Extensive Information about Peter Cooper]
* [ Images of Peter Cooper's Autobiography]
* [ Peter Cooper's Dictated Autobiography]
* [ "The death of slavery" by Peter Cooper at] succession box
title=Greenback Party presidential candidate
after=James Baird Weaver
years=1876 (lost)

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