Limestone to Host Special Screening of Peter Cooper Documentary


Limestone College will host a special screening of the documentary "Mechanic to Millionaire: The Peter Cooper Story" on Monday, November 2nd at 4 p.m. in the banquet room of Stephenson Dining Hall. Janet Gardner, whose company the Gardner Documentary Group made the film, will be at the screening to take part in a question and answer session with the audience.

The event is free and open to the public.

Parts of the documentary-made possible by a grant from the Maryland Humanities Council, the Humanities Council of South Carolina and New Jersey Council for the Humanities-were taped on the Limestone campus and in and around Gaffney.

While perhaps best known as a mechanical genius whose inventions and business acumen helped America grow from an agricultural-based society to an industrial power, Cooper (1791-1883) was a staunch believer in the power of education and was instrumental in the survival of Limestone College.

"When Peter Cooper arrived in South Carolina in 1878, the area was devastated by the impact of the Civil War. Confederate dollars were worthless," said Gardner. "A well-known philanthropist, Cooper was called to save Limestone Springs Female High School, which was bankrupt. He wanted to start a school that would be self-financing and also hoped to educate children of freed slaves. But when that plan was not supported, it reverted to being a school for women, known as the Cooper-Limestone Institute."

Today, Limestone is a thriving coeducational liberal arts college, and is the largest private college in South Carolina with eight campus sites throughout the state.

Born into a family plagued by debt, Cooper was distrustful of banks. He warned his fellow Americans about "the dangerous classes---the monied-men of this nation." During recessions, called "panics," Cooper had cash on hand, bought real estate and prospered. He opposed the gold standard favored by banker, believing that paper currency would be more useful to working people.

Cooper's resourcefulness and ingenuity was evident even in his early years. As a child, he invented a washing machine for his mother. In 1830, he built the first American steam locomotive, the "Tom Thumb," in Baltimore. Out of his iron rails for the railroad, he fashioned the wrought iron I beam for multi-storied construction allowing cities to grow vertically.

Additionally, Cooper oversaw the laying of the first transatlantic telegraph cable. He also invented the first blast furnace, a compressed air engine for ferry boats, a water-powered device to move barges down the newly-constructed Erie Canal, a machine to grind and polish plate glass and a musical cradle.

His commitment to education was solidified in 1859 when he established his famed Cooper Union, an educational institution at which all instruction was free and open to all who met the entrance requirements, regardless of race, creed or social status.