Little Bitz: Jacob Perkins, Money Maker
Jacob Perkins, Money Maker
Born in Newburyport in 1766, Jacob Perkins was one of America’s first inventors and entrepreneurs. After beginning his career as a silversmith in 1779, Perkins suddenly found himself the owner of the silversmith’s business in 1783 when his employer, Elias Davis, died unexpectedly. Seizing the opportunity, Perkins set up shop with his brother, Abraham, in the back of their Fruit Street house, eventually printing paper currency and minting coins for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (at the time, each state had its own currency). To combat counterfeiting, a serious problem in those days, Perkins developed a complex printing system that combined 64 separate hardened steel dies to create a single image, according to the Historical Society of Old Newbury.
Perkins held more than two dozen patents in his lifetime, and in 1809, Massachusetts law made his pioneering printing method a requirement for all paper money printers. A version of Perkins’ printing system is still used today by the U.S. Mint.
Perkins’ Newburyport home, known as the Perkins Printing and Engraving Plant, was recently restored by the Historical Society of Old Newbury. Today, the house is part of the historical society’s Caleb Cushing House Museum.