2Setting the Tone: George Washington
The General, as even Martha called him, had an unabiding passion for science and technology—particularly if he could make a buck out out the deal—forever setting the tone for American innovation. His boldest venture was an attempt to turn the Potomac River into a navigable waterway to Ohio with little more than shovels, slaves and a dicey new technology called dynamite. It was a spectacular flop but presaged the building of the Erie Canal.
3Tippecanoe and the Telegraph Too: John Tyler
Otherwise known as “His Accidency” after assuming the presidency in the wake of William Henry Harrison’s death in 1841, Tyler is mostly known for annexing the Republic of Texas (a controversial decision even today, at least in Texas) into the United States, but in 1843 he signed off on legislation granting Samuel F. B. Morse funds to build a demonstration telegraph line—the forefather of the Internet—between Washington and Baltimore.
4A Patented Genius: Abraham Lincoln
Honest Abe gets major tech points for being the only president to hold a patent, creating a device to float a boat over shoals and sandbars. It didn’t work, putting Lincoln in fast company with a lot of other inventors. Lincoln’s interest in technology never flagged, though, and served him well during the Civil War. Under his leadership, Lincoln urged the development of ironclad ships, observation balloons, breech-loading rifles and machine guns.
5Hello, White House? Rutherford B. Hayes
On May 10, 1877, Rutherford B. Hayes —you remember him, don’t you?—proclaimed the telephone “one of the greatest events since creation” and installed the first phone in the White House. His first, historic call from the White House was to telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell. Hayes said, “Please speak more slowly.” The White House phone number was “1.”
6Fly Me to the Moon: John F. Kennedy
The whole nine yards, the right stuff, at least as the tech legend gos. JFK challenged the nation’s best and brightest scientists to get us to the moon in a decade, defeating communism and inventing Tang along the way. We delivered on all counts, although that Commie thing took a whole lot longer. Elementary school students Bill Gates and Steve Jobs immediately think: there could be money in this tech stuff.
7IM Visionary: Lyndon B. Johnson
When LBJ wanted to talk to someone, he wanted to talk now. In age before cell phones, personal computers and the Internet, Johnson stuffed the White House with hard-wired telephones to make calls even when heeding the call of nature. The recipients of these bathroom calls were luckier than staffers who had to attend in person.
8Beware the Borg: Ronald Reagan
LBJ gets chops for putting telephones in his personal White House bathrooms and Nixon’s use of video recording technology is legendary, but no president since Kennedy did more to pour money to innovation than Ronald Reagan. Think Star Wars and outspending the Evil Empire when it came to technology and science budgets. As a trained actor, Reagan could believe in anything. He was half right in this case.
9Everybody Needs a Clueless Sugar Daddy: George H.W. Bush
That grocery store scanner thing was a wonder to Bush. And while it is true typewriters ruled the day in Bush’s White House, he did sign in 1991 legislation promoted by Al Gore creating what the young, nutty Tennessee senator said would lead to something called the “information superhighway.” Both were right, both failed in attempts to win the presidency.
10Nerd Poster Boy: Bill Clinton
Clinton’s White House was the first to get wired and connect to the Internet. He rode it all the to a balanced federal budget and got out before the nation’s first Internet boom collapsed, unregulated, rode hard and rolled up wet at the feet of his successor. Interestingly enough, Clinton sent only two e-mails during his two terms: one a test message and the other proving the network could deliver a message to an orbiting space shuttle.
11Privacy Are Good: George W. Bush
That Internet thingy was as much a bafflement to Bush as price scanners were to his father, although he enjoyed using “the Google” to see aerial photos of his Texas ranch. Nevertheless, when technology and an obliging telephone industry presented the opportunity to wiretap everyone in the United States, Bush grabbed it. Privacy advocates should be forever indebted to Bush for bringing individual privacy rights in an Internet age back into the spotlight.
12Why? Because Im Cool: Barack Obama
With a BlackBerry permanently attached to his ear, an Internet campaign promising to go around the noddleheads inside the Beltway and promoting technology as the key to solving the nation’s problems, Obama has entered office with high expectations. Wining a presidential campaign, though, is very different than implementing policy with the hoopleheads. Only time will tell if Obama is successful.