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Mini Biographies of Scots and Scots Descendants (C)
Cooper, Peter


(1791-1883) He was one of the most innovative and resourceful of all the early American manufacturers. He progressed from hat making to brewing to shearing machines to food sales to glue making to ironworks, blast furnaces, and rolling mills. He was born February 12, 1791, in New York City of Scottish ancestry. Both grandfathers Campbell and Cooper fought in the Revolutionary War. His life spanned the development of America from the framing of the Constitution to the heyday of capitalism. On July 4, 1828, Charles Carroll, the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence, turned the first sod for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. Cooper believing that Baltimore would have tremendous growth because of the railroad made a sizeable investment in real estate around the city. One year later, the B & O was in financial difficulty. The reason was that a locomotive could not go around a curve with a radius of less than 300 feet. The railroad, however, had built their curves with radii of from 150 to 200 feet in order to save cost. Cooper realizing that the growth of Baltimore and the success of his land ventures, depended on the railroad, set about to develop a small locomotive. In 1830, he built the first practical steam locomotive in America. As an experiment it was about the size of a handcar and was never intended to operate as a working engine. It was called "Tom Thumb" because it was so small. The engine weighed less than a ton, but the principles developed are still used in engines today. The Baltimore and Ohio railroad was saved from bankruptcy. Peter Cooper is representative of so many of the peculiar talents and abilities of early Scottish craftsmen. He was an untutored inventor who became a strong, individualist businessman. He bought his own iron mines to feed his blast furnaces and rolling mills. Out of these mills he produced the first iron structural beams. He manufactured the wire and joined Cyrus Field in laying the first transatlantic cable. Cooper was the first to use the Bessemer steel making process in the United Sates. In 1876, Peter Cooper was nominated for President of the United States by the Greenback Party. In 1879 he was honored by the Iron and Steel Institute of Great Britain with the Bessemer Gold Medal. New York University elected him to the Hall of Fame of Great Americans. He served as president and board member in various banking, insurance, and industrial associations. He died October 4, 1883, in New York City.

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