Who Was Peter Cooper?

Peter Cooper (17911883) Photograph by Granger
Peter Cooper (17911883) Photograph by Granger from fineartamerica.com


Peter Cooper was a renowned American industrialist, inventor, philanthropist, and politician. He played a significant role in shaping America’s industrial landscape during the 19th century. Cooper’s contributions spanned across various fields, including engineering, manufacturing, and education. This article aims to delve into the life and accomplishments of this remarkable individual.

Early Life

Peter Cooper was born on February 12, 1791, in New York City. He grew up in a modest family, and his father worked as a hat maker. Despite facing financial constraints, Cooper’s passion for learning led him to become an autodidact. He gained knowledge through reading books and attending public lectures, displaying his exceptional intellectual curiosity from an early age.

Entrepreneurial Ventures

Cooper’s entrepreneurial journey began when he established a successful glue factory in 1828. The glue, commonly known as “Cooper’s Glue,” became highly sought after. This venture laid the foundation for Cooper’s future industrial endeavors.

Railroad Innovations

In 1830, Cooper designed and built the first steam locomotive in the United States, named the Tom Thumb. This landmark achievement revolutionized transportation and paved the way for the expansion of the railroad industry. Cooper’s innovations in locomotive engineering played a crucial role in the growth and development of the American railroad system.

Political Career

In addition to his business endeavors, Peter Cooper was actively involved in politics. He ran for President of the United States in 1876 as the candidate of the Greenback Party. Although he did not win, his campaign focused on advocating for social reforms and economic equality.

Philanthropy and Education

Cooper was a firm believer in the power of education to uplift society. He contributed significantly to educational institutions, most notably the establishment of the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in 1859. This institution provided free education in arts, engineering, and architecture, ensuring access to quality education for individuals who lacked financial means.

Legacy and Impact

Peter Cooper’s contributions continue to shape America’s industrial and educational landscape. His innovations in the transportation industry and dedication to philanthropy left an indelible mark on society. The Cooper Union remains a prestigious institution in New York City, continuing to provide quality education to this day.


Peter Cooper’s life serves as an inspiration to generations to come. His entrepreneurial spirit, innovative mindset, and commitment to social progress exemplify the potential for individuals to make a lasting impact on society. Through his various accomplishments, Cooper left a legacy that continues to shape America’s industrial and educational sectors in the 21st century.