Thomas Jefferson's Revolving Bookshelf Invention

Jefferson's revolving bookstand is one of his lesser-known inventions.
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The third president of the United States and the author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson was a powerful man who helped shaped the future of America. Intelligent, opinionated and controlling, he is remembered for his political leanings and also for his elaborately constructed Virginia plantation, known as Monticello. The home included many of Jefferson’s own inventions, including a revolving bookstand.

1 The Bookstand

The solid walnut bookstand was first believed to be a music stand, according to, because Jefferson was proficient on the violin. A hole in the base of the stand implies that it might have, at one time, been mounted on a tripod, as a music stand would be. But historians later concluded that the stand was designed to hold books.

2 The Design

When closed, the stand looks like a cube that swivels on a base. Each side of the cube lifts up slightly at the base and can be propped up to hold a book. The top of the cube consists of another panel that lifts at an angle to hold a fifth book. When in use, the revolving bookstand allowed Jefferson to easily access five books at one time by rotating it.

3 The Writer

Jefferson was highly educated. He studied for as many as 15 hours a day while enrolled at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg. Later, he became a lawyer and joined Colonial Virginia's House of Burgesses. There, he became famous for a pamphlet he wrote criticizing the British parliament for trying to control the colonists. Although he did not enjoy speaking in public, he was an excellent writer, and it was because of this pamphlet that he was asked to draft the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson carried this love of reading and writing with him throughout his presidency and into his retirement years, designing two rooms for this purpose at Monticello.

4 The Cabinet

The main floor of Monticello houses Jefferson’s suite of private rooms, which include his bedchamber, a greenhouse, a reading room, and a study and writing room, which is called the Cabinet. The Cabinet is connected to his bedchamber and can only be reached through a small alcove. Interestingly, Jefferson’s bed was situated in the alcove, ensuring almost total privacy for anyone working in the Cabinet. Historians believe the revolving bookstand was kept in the Cabinet.