Guided Primary Source Analysis: Jefferson’s Pasta Machine

Thomas Jefferson ["Maccaroni" machine with instructions for making pasta] Holograph drawing and text, 1787
Thomas Jefferson “Maccaroni” machine with instructions for making pasta. Holograph drawing and text, 1787.

Curator description:

Thomas Jefferson noted these plans for a macaroni or pasta machine while touring northern Italy in 1787. When Jefferson prepared these plans, macaroni was a highly fashionable food in Paris, where he was stationed as minister to France. He later commissioned his secretary William Short to purchase a macaroni machine in Italy, but the machine was not very durable. In later years Jefferson served macaroni or spaghetti made by cutting rolled dough into strips, which were then rolled by hand into noodles.

While in France, Jefferson became enamored with French cuisine bourgeoise and not only had his slave James Heming trained as a cook, but he later brought his French butler, Adrien Petit, to the United States. Jefferson acquired a stock of standard French recipes for French fries, sauces, fruit tarts, desserts, blood sausages, pigs’ feet, rabbits, and pigeons, which he served to his guests at Monticello.

Why do you think Jefferson labeled the drawing of the pasta machine? Try to provide a description for each labeled item.

How much of this document can you translate? What does Jefferson say about the ingredients used to make pasta?

Describe a cool food-making machine that we have today or that you can imagine we’ll have in the future. Be sure to include a labeled diagram of the invention.

What other observations, reflections or questions does this source inspire? Let us know!