George Washington was not only the father of our country. He was also the father of American entrepreneurship.
Washington was a successful entrepreneur whose business background gave him a unique understanding of what the U.S. needed to do to grow, according to Edward Lengel, author of the new book First Entrepreneur: How George Washington Built His--and the Nation's--Prosperity (DeCapo Press, 2016).
"Because he was an entrepreneur, he understood that the most important thing was to ensure that the country was set on a road to wealth and prosperity," says Lengel.
Lengel says that Washington's mother, Mary, passed on valuable financial management skills to her son. She taught him that saving money was good, debt was bad, and innovation was the key to becoming wealthy.
In the late 1760s, Washington, who inherited his Mount Vernon estate from his father, began to switch his primary crop from tobacco, which could only be bought and sold on credit, to wheat, which he could buy and sell using cash. The move helped Washington break out of the credit-and-debt cycle and he was able to pay off his family's debt by the mid 1770s.
Once Washington became U.S. president, he took the same approach to running the country.
He fought to establish a national currency to stabilize the country, and gave Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton the go-ahead to persuade Congress to assume state debt.
But one of the smartest moves he made was during the Constitutional Convention of 1787.
While the rest of Congress was drafting the Constitution, he made it his mission to go out and meet with entrepreneurs around Philadelphia. Among these were Pierre Legaux, a French emigre who ran a vineyard near the Schuylkill River in Pennsylvania. Washington encouraged Legaux to stay in America and "bring the Culture of Vine to perfection in this Country," Lengel writes in First Entrepreneur.
Washington visited experimental farms and factories to remind the American people that their prosperity, and nothing short of the future success of their democracy, would depend on their ability to experiment and innovate, Lengel says.
"Other founding fathers understood business for themselves, but they didn't understand how important it was to set an example for everybody," he says.