This article appeared in the April 02, 2021 edition of the Monitor Daily.

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Abe Lincoln and the Suez Canal – how they’re connected

Suez Canal Authority/AP
The Ever Given, a Panama-flagged cargo ship, is pulled by one of the Suez Canal tugboats, in the Suez Canal in Egypt, March 29, 2021.
Peter Grier
Washington editor

The world’s maritime nightmare is over: The Suez Canal is unplugged. The container ship that blocked the waterway for six days was refloated on Monday. People on the internet can stop suggesting weird ways to free the Ever Given, or using it as a metaphor for other immobile problems of our times.

But here’s a last comment on Suez news: You know who might have had something interesting to say about it, if he hadn’t been born 212 years ago? 

Abraham Lincoln. Really.

Honest Abe was a riverboat man in his youth. Once he stranded a flatboat on a mill dam on the Sangamon River in Illinois. He quickly sprang to action, unloading cargo and drilling a hole in the bow to let water in the boat drain out.

As he rose in law and politics he remained interested in transportation issues. In 1848, after election to Congress, he was traveling home from Washington when his boat hung on a sandbar. He watched intently as the crew pushed empty barrels and boxes under the boat, floating it off the bar.

Impressed, he thought of developing an apparatus to do this job. Eventually he and a Springfield mechanic built a model of his invention, which involved rudimentary air bags along a ship’s side, raised and lowered from mast-like poles.

Lincoln successfully patented his idea in 1849. He remains the only president with a patent. Maybe that’s what U.S. democracy needs: more chief executives who have literally thought about how to float voters’ boats.

This article appeared in the April 02, 2021 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 04/02 edition
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