The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere

How Government Helped and Helps Paul Revere

by Elaine Schwartz    •    May 12, 2012    •    622 Views

The year was 1800 when a 65 year old, Paul Revere said, “I have engaged to build me a Mill for Rolling Copper into sheets which for me is a great undertaking, and will require every farthing which I can rake or scrape.”

Paul Revere had been a silversmith, a copper engraver, he could make the buckles on your shoes, your teapot, your false teeth, your church bells. He knew George Washington, John Hancock, John and Sam Adams. During the Revolutionary War, he helped produce gunpowder and cannon, he made that midnight ride, and, protected by a military guard, he printed the money that paid for soldiers and supplies (and his own labor).

With $25,000 of his savings (but not the money he printed), and a $10,000 loan from the federal government with 19,000 pounds of copper, he started his copper foundry. After helping to make the first ships for the U.S. Navy, he had to write a “distressed” note to the US government asking for the $25,000 that was overdue.

Whereas in 1800, the US government helped Revere & Sons grow, now it is helping their descendant survive. Yes, the same firm that Paul Revere started and others like it again need government subsidies. New York State, where Revere Copper Products  now resides, is giving the firm cheap electricity. Governments at every level are providing loans, grants, tax breaks, and other kinds of support to help businesses compete against China’s lower cost producers.

An economist might display the story of Revere’s relationship with the government in 1800 and now through one demand and supply graph. You just need to shift your supply curve to the right to show how subsidies lower cost and thereby increase production.

A classic and the source of my information, Esther Forbes’s 1942 biography of Paul Revere is wonderful . For the current Revere Copper Products story, the NY Times presents a good picture of what small manufacturers say they need from government.

This page was edited after it appeared. I changed Tom Hancock to John Hancock because the latter was well known.

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