Today is the day we as a nation celebrate George Washington’s birthday. His achievements on the battlefield and the political arena are well-known and documented. What is less well-known by the public is that Mr. Washington was quite the entrepreneur.
Washington was a lifelong farmer, and thus much of his time and mental capacity went towards making his land more productive. He experimented with the then-new methods of crop rotation and animal husbandry on his plantation at Mount Vernon. Finding that the current methods of threshing wheat to be either too labor intensive or unsanitary, Mr. Washington invented a six-sided threshing barn. Comprised of two levels, the upper boardwalk hosted the grain and horses who trampled the seeds free to allow them to fall through periodic holes in the floor. Below on the ground level, the seeds could then be easily raked into piles and collected.
Washington also experimented with a planting device that was both devilishly complicated and complete genius. In what was essentially a “seeding barrow,” Washington placed seeds within a barrel that had evenly spaced holes. Then he installed an outer metal ring with just one hole that led into a funnel that pointed at the ground. As the barrel rotated, when the two holes periodically lined up the seeds would fall through to the freshly tilled soil. Not too shabby for someone with no formal education to speak of.
Somewhat less verified, there is claim that Washington was also a master mixologist. There is one New York Times report from 1906 that claims that Washington not only invented the swizzle stick (cocktail stirrer) but also made the first modern cocktail. The story goes that after a 10 mile (!) morning walk with his ailing brother (not the first thing I’d do with a sick person, but this WAS the time of bleedings), the pair stopped into a pub to quench their now might thirst. Unsatisfied with the schnapps produced, Washington went ahead and grabbed some South American bitters from the barkeep and added “the grating of kola nut.” He then broke his clay smoking pipe in two and used the stem to stir (or swizzle) the newly born “first cocktail” to a froth. Apparently, the result was delicious and just what the brothers needed.
Cocktail and swizzle inventing not-withstanding, Washington has been called the first American engineer. Indeed, today is also part of National Engineering Week by no accident. Our first president had a keen mind for deconstructing problems and inventing new solutions. So take a moment today to reflect on Washington’s achievements, and if you possess some fresh kola nut, try a swizzle for yourself.