Thursday, October 6, 2011

Distinguish Yourself

"Distinction is the consequence, never the object of a great mind."

George Washington

The thought, "Build a better mouse trap and the whole world will beat down your door," comes to mind here!

The very essence of capitalism, as born by the free market, is innovation and distinction. The freedom to bring a new product to market, or to market a product in a different, more efficient, way, is the very thing that made the west rich.

And particularly the United States.

Few realize the great entrepreneurship of George Washington. He is emblematic of the greatness the freedoms this country offer in terms of his business savvy and visionary entrepreneurship.

Only 11 when his father died, he was the youngest boy in the family and so his inheritance was not much. The family was not rich, but not poor either, but still, in fact, lacked the funds to give young George a formal education!


When finally inheriting Mount Vernon from his brother Lawrence, his first step in entrepreneurship was to abandon the most common cash crop of his era, and Virginia. That crop? Tobacco.

Everyone was producing tobacco, so much that by 1766 prices had gotten very low. Too low for a profitable return. He had to make a decision. He needed a commodity in demand, but would also fetch a good return.

The entrepreneur George Washington chose WHEAT! And he needed good wheat, one that was distinguished from other wheat crops. He needed better wheat.


Washington also had a fishery. He lived on the banks of the Potomac River! It was full of fish! Shad, herring and other fish, Washington put together a small navy of rowboats and large nets. According to the Reynolds Museum at Mount Vernon his group netted 1.5 million fish! He sold the good parts at market, and reserved the inedible portions of the fish for fertilizer! This fertilizer was used on his wheat fields.

It became quite the cash crop. In 1771 he replaced a deteriorated grist mill his father built. He ground his wheat there, as well as wheat from the other farms around Mount Vernon. He also planted other grains and when returning to Mount Vernon after his presidency, he improved the grist mill in 1791.

What did he do when he retired from politics?

Washington built a distillery in 1797!

And what did he do with his new found distillery?


According to one Virginia magazine, he produced whiskey, "rye, malted barley and corn were mixed with boiling water to make a mash in 120 gallon barrels." That was probably a continuous source of cash! The Mount Vernon Foundation was awarded a grant from the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States in 2007, and the distillery reopened. A few times a year Mount Vernon's visitors can purchase whiskey produced from his original recipes and generated from this distillery.

George Washington's entrepreneurial spirit, no pun intended, saw a need and went about filling it as best as his abilities would allow. That is the very essence of free enterprise and free market economics! He had the spirit of so many of our Founding Fathers, who simply MADE IT HAPPEN. THEY DISTINGUISHED THEMSELVES!!

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