He Invented The Swivel Chair But Didn’t Pay Back His Student Loans?


Any idea who this man is? Well, since it took me 45 minutes of searching the campus of The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia before I found a statue of this man, I thought you should see what I saw along the way.

Here’s William:


And Mary:


And the new frat houses being built:


And the burial site of some of the Presidents of the College:


And the statue of the first President of the college, James Blair:


And the site of the first Balloon Flight in Virginia:


Finally, after much searching and asking students where the statue of this famous loan deadbeat was, we found it standing majestically behind Jefferson Hall, and between Washington Hall and McGlithlin Hall. You have to walk here as you can’t see it from your car.

Who are we talking about? None other than ……


Thomas Jefferson!

And I can hear you saying “Thomas Jefferson invented the swivel chair?” Yea, I didn’t know that one either.

But, the story goes that the bronze statue was a gift from the University of Virginia (the college Jefferson founded in 1819) to the College of William & Mary (the college Jefferson attended from 1760-62). While he was a student, William and Mary was not the premier institution of world-class education that it is today, and later Jefferson occasionally disparaged his alma mater.

Still, that didn’t mean there weren’t a few benefits attached to a W&M sheepskin. In 1823, Jefferson managed to borrow $24,000 — a fifth of W&M’s small endowment — to address his myriad financial woes. Then he stiffed ’em, never repaid the loan. Then he died, and his heirs ignored the debt, since William & Mary didn’t have much political clout. After the Civil War, the college fell on hard times and closed in 1882 for six years. Just three years earlier, the proceeds of the sale of Jefferson’s Shadwell plantation paid back less than half of the original loan, and half a century late.

Now time-travel forward to 1992, and there’s the University of Virginia generously donating a statue of everyone’s favorite writer of the Declaration of Independence to the College of William and Mary. At the dedication, UVA’s president mentioned the debt and hoped it would now be forgiven.

Twenty years further on, and Jefferson’s original debt seems like small potatoes — about what it costs an in-state student for one W&M year of study. But even if you spend that year inventing a cipher wheel and an improved swivel chair, then write the Declaration of Independence Turbo Edition… you still don’t get to ignore your college loan.

The plaque beneath the statue quotes Jefferson: “I look to the diffusion of light and education as the resource most to be relied on for ameliorating the condition, promoting the virtue and advancing the happiness of man.”

But the statue’s pose says to us something closer to: “A debt, you say? Isn’t seeing me as a statue payment enough?” – Roadside America


As for the swivel chair, Jefferson used an English-style Windsor chair, possibly made by and purchased from Francis Trumble or Philadelphia cabinet-maker Benjamin Randolph, and invented the first swivel chair. Jefferson heavily modified the Windsor chair and incorporated top and bottom parts connected by a central iron spindle, enabling the top half known as the seat, to swivel on casters of the type used in rope-hung windows. When the Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia, Jefferson’s swivel chair is purported to be where he drafted the United States Declaration of Independence in 1776. Jefferson later had the swivel chair sent to his Virginia plantation, Monticello, where he later built a “writing paddle” onto its side in 1791. Since 1836, the chair has been in the possession of the American Philosophical Society located in Philadelphia.

How about that Thomas Jefferson?


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