Thomas Jefferson's Lap Desk: A Revolutionary Writing Companion


Thomas Jefferson, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, was not only a prolific writer and thinker but also a practical innovator. Among his many inventions, one stands out as a symbol of his commitment to both his work and his ideals: the Jefferson lap desk. This unassuming portable writing desk played a pivotal role in his life, enabling him to pen some of the most influential documents in American history and offering us a glimpse into his innovative spirit.

The Genesis of the Lap Desk

In the late 18th century, Thomas Jefferson recognized the need for a portable writing surface that would allow him to work efficiently, wherever he may find himself. Being an inveterate traveler and a man deeply dedicated to his intellectual pursuits, Jefferson often found himself in different locations, whether at his Monticello estate in Virginia, in Philadelphia while serving in the Continental Congress, or overseas as a diplomat in France.

To address this need, Jefferson designed and commissioned a lap desk, also known as a "writing box" or "portable desk." He meticulously designed this piece of furniture to suit his specific needs. The result was a portable writing desk with an inclined surface for writing, compartments for storing pens, inkwells, and paper, and a hinged lid that could be secured with a lock. The lap desk was made from high-quality materials, including mahogany, brass, and green wool lining.

Monticello's Influence on Design

Thomas Jefferson's attention to detail extended to the design of his lap desk. Monticello, his beloved home and architectural masterpiece, served as a source of inspiration. The lap desk's elegant yet functional design mirrored the neoclassical style that characterized Monticello's architecture, reflecting Jefferson's deep appreciation for classical aesthetics.

Jefferson's Workhorse

Jefferson's lap desk wasn't just a stylish accessory; it was a practical workhorse. He used it to draft numerous letters, legal documents, and personal notes. Most notably, the lap desk played a pivotal role in the drafting of the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson is said to have composed the initial version of this historic document on his lap desk in a rented room in Philadelphia in 1776.

Beyond the Declaration, Jefferson's lap desk accompanied him on his diplomatic mission to France, where he served as the United States Minister. It became a constant companion, allowing him to engage in a prolific correspondence with American leaders and European intellectuals. It also played a role in the creation of his personal library, which eventually became the foundation for the Library of Congress.

A Symbol of Innovation and Independence

Thomas Jefferson's lap desk is not only a testament to his practical ingenuity but also a symbol of the values he held dear: independence, self-reliance, and the pursuit of knowledge. It exemplifies the spirit of a man who believed in the power of ideas and the importance of putting pen to paper to shape the course of history.

Today, Jefferson's lap desk remains an iconic artifact, on display at Monticello, serving as a tangible link to the past and a reminder of the enduring impact of his contributions to American society. It continues to inspire those who visit Monticello and study the life and legacy of one of America's most remarkable statesmen.


Thomas Jefferson's lap desk is more than just a piece of furniture; it's a symbol of creativity, innovation, and dedication to one's craft. This portable writing desk not only facilitated the creation of seminal American documents but also represents the very ideals that Jefferson championed throughout his life. As we look back on the legacy of this remarkable Founding Father, we can appreciate how a simple lap desk played a part in shaping the course of history.

Leave a comment

All blog comments are checked prior to publishing
The cookie settings on this website are set to 'allow all cookies' to give you the very best experience. Please click Accept Cookies to continue to use the site.
You have successfully subscribed!
This email has been registered