January 5, 2007 -- Peter Cooper believed that education should be as free as air. His Cooper Union makes sure that happens.
Peter Cooper was born in Feb. 12, 1791 in New York City. As America ushered in the Industrial Age, Cooper would take full advantage of the times and become a self-made millionaire.
He had less than a year of formal schooling, but a great talent for inventing. By 17, he was an apprentice coach maker.
In 1829, Cooper invented the first steam-engine train to run on an American track. He called it the Tom Thumb. He didn't lose faith even after the train was challenged to a race with a horse and buggy - and lost. This important invention was the prototype of the modern steam-engine trains that followed.
He organized the Trenton Iron Co., which built the beams that today hold up the famous dome of the Capitol in
He ventured into real estate, insurance and telegraphy. He was the principal investor in the New York, Newfoundland and London Telegraph Co., which laid the first trans-Atlantic telegraph cable.
Perhaps his most famous credit is for the instant gelatin that eventually became what we know as Jell-o. Cooper's wife, Sarah, actually came up with the instant fruit-flavored concoction.
With all of his inventive prowess and subsequent wealth, Cooper was troubled that he had no real education and, in fact, could not even spell. He was just good at inventing. He tried in vain to find a school that would nurture his natural talent.
Cooper decided to open a tuition-free school where students with scientific and architectural ability could study for free.
The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art was born. One of its most famous students was Thomas Edison.
At the time, most New Yorkers thought that Cooper was wasting his money on such a venture. But they were proven wrong.
Established in 1859, the school on Cooper Square in the East Village, is the only privately funded, full-scholarship college in the country dedicated to architecture, art and engineering.