Cooper would go on to design and build the first steam railroad engine in the country, open a glue factory and an iron foundry, invent powdered gelatin (which, when his wife added fruit for flavor became known as Jello) and increased his growing fortune through real estate, insurance, the new telegraph, and railroading.
By the middle of the 19th century, Cooper was one of the most successful and wealthiest men in the country. Yet he suffered a nagging self-consciousness over his lack of education. To provide the means by which other lower-class children could receive an education, he conceived of a free teaching institution based on the concept of a polytechnic school in Paris.
Over the years Presidents Grant, Cleveland, Taft, Theodore Roosevelt, Wilson, Clinton and Obama would follow Lincoln’s lead, speaking in the Great Hall. Here the NAACP and the Red Cross were organized.