Design and Gadgets

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Jefferson’s creative mind was always busy. He had wonderful ideas for the efficient use of space, light and time. And he was continually designing and adding improvements to his home “with a greater eye to convenience.”

 

Interior face of the Great Clock

Interior face of the Great Clock

The Great Clock is one of the prominent features of Monticello's Hall
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The Great Clock

When guests arrived at Monticello, they found many wonderful things. They were greeted by the Great Clock, made in Philadelphia based on Jefferson’s design. It was called a seven day calendar clock because it told the time and as the clock weights descended down the wall of the Hall also they told the day of the week. The clock was designed for a house in Philadelphia and when Jefferson had the clock moved to Monticello, there was not enough room in the Hall for the weights to descend for a full week. Jefferson needed to cut a hole in the floor of the Hall in order for the clock weights to have room for Saturday.

The exterior face of the clock was visible from outside. A gong rang the hour loud enough for the field slaves to hear it up to three miles away. The clock’s interior face beamed from high on the wall of the Hall. It had an hour hand, a minute hand and a second hand. To reach it, Jefferson designed a collapsible ladder that could be stored when not in use.

 

Revolving Service Door

Revolving Service Door


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Gadgets in the Dining Room

Jefferson loved gadgets for the dining room, too. He had a revolving service door built into the wall near the stairs that led to the kitchen. Enslaved servants placed dishes of food on the shelves. The door was then rotated so the dishes ended up in the dining room. A servant would then place the dishes on a dumbwaiter. Dumbwaiters were small tables with shelves and wheels. A guest noted, "by each individual was placed a dumbwaiter, containing everything necessary for the progress of dinner from beginning to end."

Hidden in the sides of the dining room's fireplace were two pulley-operated dumbwaiters that Monticello's house servants used to transport wine bottles to and from the cellar.

 

Polygraph

Polygraph copying machine

Jefferson owned several versions of the Polygraph, which he used to make copies of his letters as he wrote them. Image courtesy of the University of Virginia.
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Gadgets in the Office

Jefferson also liked practical equipment in his office (called the Cabinet). His swivel chair let him turn around from his desk and talk to someone. His worktable had a revolving top so he could reach his papers and books. He improved the design of a portable lap desk, adding a board to lean on while writing and a drawer to hold extra supplies. One his favorite devices was the Polygraph copying machine, which made almost exact copies of his letters as he wrote them.

He also designed a revolving bookstand, which was crafted in the joinery at Monticello. It expanded to hold five books at one time.

 

A 'Turning Machine' for Clothes

'Turning Machine' for clothes

Conjectural drawing of the rotating clothing rack.
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Gadgets in the Bedroom

During his years in France, Jefferson saw alcove beds, which were built into walls. He recognized their space-saving qualities, so he added one or two alcoves in each of Monticello’s bedrooms.

In his own bedroom, Jefferson hung his clothes at the end of his bed on what his grandson called a "turning machine." A guest described it as a "horse with forty-eight projecting hands on which he hung his coats . . ."