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Friday Photo: Thomas Jefferson’s Lap Desk


(Photo: Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History)

As Americans strive to wring the last morsels of patriotic fun from this year’s awkwardly placed Fourth of July holiday, let’s take a moment to remember who is to thank for all of the picnics, sparklers, and fireworks (even if, by some glitch, they all go off at once). It was 236 years ago that Thomas Jefferson hunkered down at this proto-laptop and drafted the Declaration of Independence. The hinged top will look familiar, but in place of USB ports, TJ had a locking drawer for supplies such as pens and an inkwell (and probably some snacks). Unlike the sleek yet disposable devices of today, this chunky “writing box” saw Jefferson through some five decades of document preparation and diplomatic doodling. “Politics as well as Religion has its superstitions,” he wrote in a note that he attached under the writing board in 1825, before gifting it to his new grandson-in-law, Joseph Coolidge. “These, gaining strength with time, may, one day, give imaginary value to this relic, for its great association with the birth of the Great Charter of our Independence.” The family later donated the portable desk to the U.S. government, and today it is in the Smithsonian collection.

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