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This inventor had a killer working for him in 1804     Send a link to a friend

By Paul Niemann

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[JULY 22, 2004]  While the above headline might not sound all that interesting at first, wait until you learn the identities of the inventor, the killer and the victim. Each one was known for something other than their main profession, and each one left a lasting legacy that has something to do with money some 200 years later.

First, the inventor…

He helped establish the United States patent office in 1790. Oddly enough, he was originally against the idea of patents because he considered patents to be an unfair monopoly.

But that isn't what he was known for. So who was this inventor?

We'll call him Tom, because his name was Tom.

His inventions included the swivel chair, a new type of sundial, the moldboard plow and the cipher wheel. Among his peers at his main job, he was without equal as an inventor. Tom also introduced french fries, ice cream, waffles and macaroni to the United States. In fact, he invented a macaroni machine.

But that isn't what Tom was known for. So what was his claim to fame? And why does this writer keep asking all these annoying questions?

Tom has several legacies larger than his inventions, such as his Monticello estate, serving as our nation's first patent commissioner, establishing the University of Virginia, serving as secretary of state and serving as president of the United States. That's right, Tom is Thomas Jefferson. His name and image appear on the $2 bill.

Now for the killer who worked for him…

But first, one more annoying question, and then I'll stop. I promise. Who was the killer who worked for Thomas Jefferson, our nation's third president?


[to top of second column in this article]

In 1799 he founded the Bank of the Manhattan Company, which later merged with another bank to become Chase Manhattan Bank, but that's not what he is remembered for.

I can't reveal his name just yet because that would give it away, but he killed a man in a pistol duel that made headlines at the time. In fact, it caused a national outrage, as the victim was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. The man who worked for President Thomas Jefferson and also founded the company that became Chase Manhattan Bank was initially indicted for murder, but the charge was later reduced and he served no prison time. A year later, he finished the job for which he was elected: serving as Thomas Jefferson's vice president. That man, of course, is Aaron Burr.

In some duels, the two combatants would fire their pistols at trees, intentionally missing the other person. This allowed each person to save face without killing his opponent.

Finally, the victim…

The loser of that duel, Alexander Hamilton, became regarded as a hero or, as the NRA once said, "a lousy shot." He went on to have his image placed on the $10 bill, while Burr's reputation is still tarnished two centuries later.

[Paul Niemann]

Invention Mysteries is written each week by Paul Niemann. He can be reached at niemann7@inventionmysteries.com.

© Copyright Paul Niemann 2004

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