little-known secrets behind the men & women who shaped
signers of the Declaration of Independence were inventors
By Paul Niemann
Send a link to a friend
[July 03, 2008]
In 1776, while working for our nation's
independence from England, Benjamin Franklin said, "Indeed we must
all hang together, otherwise we will hang separately." The penalty
for treason against the British was death by hanging.
We often cover stories in this column that are timely and
relevant, so we celebrate our nation's freedom by taking a look at
two signers of the Declaration of Independence who were also known
as inventors in their day. As regular readers of this column know,
Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson -- two of the most famous among
the 56 signers -- were inventors. There were two other signers who
were inventors but who are unknown to most Americans. It is these
two signers and inventors we introduce to you now.
Francis Hopkinson (1737-1791) was born in Philadelphia. His father
was one of the first trustees of the College of Philadelphia, now
called the University of Pennsylvania, as well as its first
graduate. Hopkinson went on to become a judge.
The only "inventions" that Judge Hopkinson created were the
American flag and the Great Seal of the United States. While history
credits Betsy Ross with designing the flag, it was actually
Hopkinson who played the larger role in its design. Betsy Ross had
sewn the flag together, and this may be why she is regarded as the
person who designed the flag. The journals of the Continental
Congress indicate that Hopkinson designed the flag, though. In 2000,
the U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp in honor of Hopkinson's flag
Hopkinson was also an author who wrote a ballad called "The
Battle of the Kegs" in 1778. The ballad was loosely based on a
battle in which gunpowder kegs floated down the Delaware River
toward the British at Philadelphia, and the British returned the
favor by firing back. Hopkinson was also a chemist, a physicist, a
musician, a composer and an artist.
Like Hopkinson, George Clymer (1739-1813) was born in
Pennsylvania. He was an orphan who was raised by his uncle, and his
paternal ancestors were among the earliest settlers of the state.
Clymer invented the Colombian printing press, which was an
improvement over Ben Franklin's printing press. But the Columbian,
with all its bells and whistles, never caught on in the United
[to top of second column]
You may have heard the story of how the signers of the
Declaration of Independence were hunted by the British for treason.
The 56 signers literally risked everything fighting for our
nation's freedom. Each one became a marked man. Some were captured,
while others, like Thomas Jefferson, escaped.
Nine of the signers died as a result of the war, but all were
driven from their homes at one time or another. Five were captured,
imprisoned and abused. Seventeen signers lost everything they owned,
including 12 who had their homes completely burned. Several lost
their wives and families. One lost all 13 of his children.
George Clymer and Francis Hopkinson both escaped with their
families, but their properties were completely destroyed. Clymer was
the only signer who returned to England. His reason for returning
was that England presented him with a better opportunity for his
Colombian printing press.
Thomas Jefferson died on the Fourth of July in 1826, exactly 50
years after the Declaration of Independence was adopted.
Coincidentally, it was the same day that another signer, John Adams,
In the end, the 56 signers kept their word as stated at the close
of the historic document: "We mutually pledge to each other our
lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor."
Paul Niemann's column is syndicated
to more than 70 newspapers. He is the author of the "Invention
Mysteries" series of books. He can be reached at
Copyright Paul Niemann 2008