In 1849, Abraham Lincoln conceived of and successfully patented a system of air chambers and bellows to lift boats over shoals and obstructions in a river.  As a U.S. Congressman (House of Representatives 1847-1849), Lincoln was a frequent boat traveler between Washington D.C. to his home in Illinois and had seen the need for an “improved method of buoying boats over shoals.”

President Lincoln, Inventor and Proponent of Wind Power
cc 2.0: David and Jessie, Patent Model of Abraham Lincoln’s Invention

His invention was never manufactured, but it did make him the holder of the only United States patent ever registered to a President of the United States.  During a speech on inventions and discoveries (1858), Lincoln discussed the future possibilities in wind’s untapped power to move things.

In the words of  President Lincoln, inventor and proponent of wind power:

Of all the forces of nature, I should think the wind contains the largest amount of motive power— that is, power to move things. Take any given space of the earth’s surface — for instance, Illinois — and all the power exerted by all the men, and beasts, and running-water, and steam, over and upon it, shall not equal the one hundredth part of what is exerted by the blowing of the wind over and upon the same space.

President Lincoln, Inventor and Proponent of Wind Power
cc 2.0: Flickr: David and Jessie, Abraham Lincoln’s U.S. Patent,

And yet it has not, so far in the world’s history, become proportionably valuable as a motive power. It is applied extensively, and advantageously, to sail-vessels in navigation. Add to this a few wind-mills, and pumps, and you have about all. That, as yet, no very successful mode of controlling, and directing the wind, has been discovered; and that, naturally, it moves by fits and starts — now so gently as to scarcely stir a leaf, and now so roughly as to level a forest — doubtless have been the insurmountable difficulties.

As yet, the wind is an untamed, and unharnessed force; and quite possibly one of the greatest discoveries hereafter to be made, will be the taming, and harnessing of the wind. That the difficulties of controlling this power are very great is quite evident by the fact that they have already been perceived, and struggled with more than three thousand years; for that power was applied to sail-vessels, at least as early as the time of the prophet Isaiah.

Abraham LincolnFirst Lecture on Discoveries and Inventions, Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. Volume 2.

(H/T to @JuneStoyer for tweeting a quote about Lincoln and wind power.)

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ABRAHAM LINCOLN
February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865

16th President of the United States
Husband, father, storyteller
Inventor, lawyer, postmaster, surveyor, militiaman
U.S. House of Representative  (1 term, Whig party)
IL House of Representative (4 terms)

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3 thoughts on “President Lincoln, Inventor and Proponent of Wind Power”

    1. Yes. At the same time, we are so behind in the use of renewable here in the US, I can’t help think he would be asking us is this really the best we could do in 170 years with all our technology…

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