In 1836, President Jackson accepted 1,400-pound wheel of cheese from Col. Thomas Meacham, a dairy farmer near Sandy Creek, NY. The cheese was mammoth, and it sat, ripening, in the White House for over a year. Eventually, Jackson invited everyone in Washington, DC, to stop by and help consume the massive wheel. He threw the doors open, and in just two hours, the cheese was gone.Even members of Congress went crazy for cheese and were absent from their seats. From the Vermont Phoenix, March 3, 1837:
Mr. Alford opposed the motion for a recess. He said it was time, if they intended to do any public business this session, that they forthwith set about it, for they had wasted enough time already. As for the battle with the great cheese at the White House, he was for leaving it to those whose tastes led them there, and to-morrow they might receive a full account of the killed and slain. The gentleman from Maine, (Mr Jarvis) could as well finish the speech he was making to the few members present, as not.
Mr. Wise remarked that it was pretty well understood where the absent members had gone. There was a big cheese to be eaten at the White House to-day, and the appetites of members had driven them there to partake in the treat. To obtain a quorum he therefore moved that the Seargent-at-arms be directed to go to the President’s house, and invite the members there to return to their seats. [“Those that have done eating!”—exclaimed a member.] “Oh yes,” continued Mr. W. “those that have done eating their cheese, of course.” [“And let them bring a portion with them,” said a third.] “No, he did not want any of it—he had no wish to partake of any thing at the White House.”
A motion was again made that the House take a recess till 4 o’clock.
This true story is the basis for today’s first virtual “Big Block of Cheese Day” at the White House, which is hosting an online open house for citizens to ask questions. Sadly, there will be no physical cheese giveaway!
When we heard about the event, our archivists hunted through our records, but there are no official Federal documents relating to the cheese, probably because the cheese was a private gift. (In fact, we only turned up a handful of cheese-related records, including a recipe for making “loaf” from cottage cheese.)
However, we did find a mention of Jackson and cheese in this handwritten note (see page 4 and 5) from President Truman in 1952. The White House was being renovated, and Truman was thinking of previous Presidents and their treatment of the official furnishings.
Truman wrote, “Then old Andy Jackson and his rough, tough backwoods [illegible] walking on the furniture, with muddy boots and eating a 300-pound cheese, grinding it into the lovely Adams and Monroe carpets!”
Jackson was not the first President to receive a giant wheel of cheese as a gift. President Jefferson received on as well. There is even a monument in Cheshire, MA, to the cheese press used to make the cheese for Jefferson.
Alas, this cheese slicer was patented 30 years too late to help President Jackson get rid of his cheese more quickly….
Cheese Press & Slicer patents thanks to our colleagues at the National Archives at Kansas City!
Patent for a cheese press, given to Luke Hale in June, 1838 (National Archives at Kansas City).
Patent for a cheese slicer, granted to J. G. Barker in 1860 (National Archives at Kansas City)
Thomas A. Edison’s Patent for An Improvement in Electric Lamps, 1/27/1880
From the Records of the Patent and Trademark Office
On January 27, 1880, The Patent Office granted Thomas Edison’s patent for “an Improvement in Electric Lamps” His patent was an improvement on electric lamps, not the invention of them, but because of Edison’s design changes and the materials he used—such as a carbon filament—his patent allowed for an electric lamp that was reliable, safe, and practical.
The “Landlord’s Game”
Patented January 5, 1904, this is the printed patent drawing for a game board invented by Lizzie J. Magie, a variation of which would later become the board game “Monopoly.”
Wright Brothers’ Flying Machine Patent, missing from the National Archives
December 17 is a bittersweet anniversary at the National Archives. While it’s the date of the Wright Brother’s historic first flight in 1903, it’s also a reminder of the threat that archives, libraries, museums and other cultural institutions face on a daily basis. The patent for the Wright Flyer is missing—presumed stolen—last seen in 1979, and it’s not the only item missing.
When such records are stolen our shared history is lost and our ability to maintain accountability in our government is lessened. With your help, we can return our cultural heritage to its rightful place.
How you can help:
Patent Drawing for E. Berliner’s Gramophone, 11/08/1887
While this drawing shows one of Emile Berliner’s early cylinder-style Gramophones (a format first patented by Thomas Edison), he would go on to develop the well known disc format record that would eventually replace cylinder recordings.
Need a Halloween costume for your pet chicken? Jackson’s patented Eye Protector could be a good start.
Patent of the Month
The National Archives contains many archival gems. To share some of my favorites, I am starting a new feature for the blog, Patent of the Month.
Read the full post on the AOTUS blog.
Eli Whitney’s Cotton Gin Patent Drawing
Designed to separate cotton fiber from seed, Whitney’s cotton gin, for which he applied for a patent on October 28, 1793, and received a patent on March 14, 1794, introduced a new, profitable technology to agricultural production in America, but also led to an increased dependence on the plantation system and slavery.
Need a knock ‘em dead prop for your haunted house? Try Eisenbrant’s spring loaded “Life-Preserving Coffin!”
"Life-Preserving Coffin, In Doubtful Cases of Actual Death"
Drawing for a Life-Preserving Coffin, 11/15/1843
The fear of being buried alive led Christian Henry Eisenbrandt to patent a “life-preserving coffin in doubtful cases of actual death.” In his application, he claimed that through a series of springs and levers, even the slightest motion of the head or hand would instantaneously open the coffin lid.
(Also fun at parties)
#FirstWorldProblems - Polishing safety deposit boxes
On September 8, 1903, Emil A. Strauss was granted a patent for his improvement on the safety deposit box. According to his application, until his invention, the entire safety deposit box had to be removed in order to polish it, which meant the owner had to be present. He states that his invention allows for “boxes with removable fronts, so that they may be polished … without disturbing the renters.”
Patent Drawing for W. Le Conte Stevens’ Stereoscope , 08/15/1882
Our somewhat ersatz stereograms of Lower Yellowstone Falls and Giant’s Club, Wyoming come courtesy of the Hayden Survey photographs series by William H. Jackson, photographer.