February is an important month in the history of American commerce. In a few days will be the birthday of one of the country’s earliest business innovators and large-scale entrepreneurs.
During a time period of America’s existence as an English colony and then a young nation – when, to put it mildly, communication and transportation faced challenges – this businessman’s enterprise processed 1.5 million fish per year sent throughout the 13 American colonies and the British West Indies. The mill he built grinded 278,000 pounds of branded flour annually that was shipped through America and, unusual during colonization, even exported to England as well as Portugal. And in the 1790s, during the last years of his life, this mogul built one of the largest whiskey distilleries in the new nation.
Don’t think you’ve head of this entrepreneur? Well, it’s possible you might know him from some of his achievements in the political sphere. He did, in fact, have a few notable accomplishments there.
Like serving as a representative in colonial Virginia’s House of Burgesses and as a Virginia delegate to the pre-Revolutionary War Continental Congress. Then being chosen to lead the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War and leading the American nation to a hard-fought victory for independence. And then, a few years after that, becoming the new nation’s first president.
For many Americans, and indeed quite a few scholars, George Washington has been little more than just the face on Mount Rushmore and the one-dollar bill. People revered him but just didn’t know how to relate to him. Whereas Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin generated interest with their passions and achievements in practical science and architecture, Washington didn’t seem to have a career – or much of a life – outside of his leadership as general and president.
But now, some pioneering scholars are documenting that Washington’s life’s work was just as enthralling as that of any of the Founding Fathers. His pursuits can be said to be just as creative as those of Franklin and Jefferson, but in a different way. Washington’s creativity of the type one associates with modern entrepreneurs such as Bill Gates and even Donald Trump. Whereas Franklin built gadgets at his homestead, and Jefferson built fancy buildings, the notable thing Washington built were a series of interconnected businesses.
Read more about Washington’s entrepreneurship in my article just posted at Reason. As I say in the piece, “Especially in times of economic crisis and rampant government intervention into the free enterprise system, Washington’s business background should be seen as emblematic of the American Dream.”
BTW, The image of Washington accompanying this blog post as a dashing young man with red hair was created by scholars as part of the recently opened Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center at Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens in Northern Virginia. If you’re in the Washington area this weekend, you may want to go visit. Mount Vernon is also open seven days a week all during the year.