Using Our Talents

Peter Cooper was born in 1791 in New York City. Growing up he had a number of blue-collar jobs that led him to being a tinkerer. At the age of 30, he bought a glue factory setting him off on an extraordinary entrepreneurial career.

The glue factory was very successful in expanding its product line. Having a vision of the impact of railroads, Peter bought land in Maryland where he discovered iron ore. He used the iron ores to produce rails. When the railroad struggled, Peter developed the first steam engine from discarded parts. The engine was a tremendous success leading to more rail sales. Peter had made his first fortune. He owned a number of patents.

Having both the glue factory and the rail manufacturing facility led Peter to brand out. He owned a number of patients from his tinkering. He sold these to generate income for other ventures. One of these patents became Jell-O. Peter moved on to real estate and insurance investments, leading to his second fortune. Later he would become one of the original investors in what became Western Union.

In spite of his riches, Peter lived a very simple lifestyle. His clothing was plain, his home modest, and his purchases limited. He never lost track of his family roots.

Peter was an advocate for social justice. He opposed slavery and worked to improve the way Native Americans were treated. He was a man of faith and believed that social justice reforms should reflect Christian principles. One of those reforms was the elimination of the gold standard.

Perhaps his greatest legacy was the founding of Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. His college was revolutionary for its reforms.

  • Open-admission night classes available to working men and women.
  • Free tuition for everyone.
  • Equal treatment of men and women.

Peter Cooper died at the age of 92 leaving a legacy of entrepreneurship, philanthropy, and social justice leadership. When you look at the life of Peter Cooper, you realize that this was a man who used the most of his talents. Those talents included tinkering, entrepreneurship, and risk taking. But just as important, he realized that those talents carried with them an obligation to support the lives of others. Using our talents is something we do for ourselves but also to support others.

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“Your talent is God’s gift to you. What you do with it is your gift back to God.” – Leo Buscaglia (Motivational Speaker)

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