Myth # 81: Thomas Jefferson invented triple-sash windows when he was in France to avoid the French door tax.


Virginia Mizel, Director of the Edmondston-Alston House in Charleston, SC, asked: “Was there ever a door tax in the South as there was in France? We have heard Thomas Jefferson invented the triple sash window to avoid a door tax while he was ambassador to France. Some southern tour guides state the door tax was also in place in here, which is why many homes from the 1800s have triple sash exterior windows serving as both door and window.”

Thomas Jefferson is credited with many inventions, but the folks at Monticello have been able to identify only one: a moldboard plow.  He did not invent the triple-sash window. The original sash window originated in the 1600s. Jefferson did incorporate triple-sash windows on the first floor of his home, Monticello. These could be opened like a window or used as a door. (Another problem with the statement is that, although Jefferson did live in France for several years, he did not build any houses there.) 
So any relevance to French door taxes is moot. If there were a tax on doors in France, would someone please let us know? I have it on good authority that there is no such tax today. 
As for door taxes in America, see Myth #1 on closet taxes, #11 on wardrobe taxes, #30 on mirror taxes, #75 on window taxes, and #78 on second-story taxes. If any tour guide mentions a door tax, ask him/her to specify the colony or state and point to the legislation. I cannot find any examples. 

12 Responses to Myth # 81: Thomas Jefferson invented triple-sash windows when he was in France to avoid the French door tax.

  1. R M Bragg says:

    Jefferson did not invent the polygraph (autopen) duplicate writing machine. it was invented by John Isaac Hawkins, who patented it in 1803. Jefferson bought one in 1804 and suggested improvements to it.

    Source: Murphy D. Smith, Due Reverence: antiques in the possession of the American Philosophical Society (1992), p. 37

  2. daud says:

    I’m wondering if there ever were structural or furniture taxes. It seems an outlandish way to collect taxes and I’ve never heard of a non-mythic example of any kind of window, wall, door or ceiling tax.

  3. marymiley says:

    Makes you wonder where the whole idea got started, huh?

  4. Anna says:

    Jefferson actually invented very few things, by our reckoning – we used to have a list of three (wheel cipher, spherical sundial, and moldboard plow) but in recent years we have reduced that list down to only one (the plow).

  5. Lexy says:

    About the tax, it actually existed till quite recently in France ( I am French, so I know about it): one had to pay for any door or window of one’s house, hence the closing of some when there was no money ( you can still see the shape of windows or doors on old buildings)

  6. R M Bragg says:

    He didn’t invent the mouldboard plough, either. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica (1911 edition), ” In the first half of the 18th century a plough with a short convex mould-board of wood was introduced from the Netherlands into England and, as improved at Rotherham in Yorkshire, became known as the Rotherham plough and enjoyed considerable vogue.”
    I suspect that he experimented with the shape of the mouldboard. Washington did the same.

  7. I found this scholarly work online, with works cited, about the french door tax:

    http://www.sociology.northwestern.edu/people/faculty/documents/Prasad-Origins.pdf

    • Mary Miley says:

      Super! Now, could you give us a hint as to where the reference is? The paper is 44 pages long! I tried to do a word search but couldn’t, for some reason.

  8. In 1798 on July 09, the U.S. Congress also passed an Act providing “for the valuation of lands and dwelling houses and the enumeration of slaves within the United States.[1]” This was followed on July 14, 1798, by “An Act to lay and collect a direct tax within the United States.” The new tax was a direct tax on property, houses, and slaves. The Pennsylvania portion of these tax revenues was set by Congress at $237,177.72. This tax became known as the “Window Tax”, since the measuring of the size of the windows and the counting of window panes was a part of the assessment. Opposition to the tax grew, Federal Tax Assessors were at first verbally threatened and then physically assaulted(This tax pick -up another informal moniker, from this violence and became known as the “Hot-Water Tax”, because some housewives poured hot water on the assessors from their second story windows to discourage them while they were counting and measuring their homes.[2])and were later imprisoned by the tax resisters. This opposition would lead to Fries’s Rebellion in 1799. 1.) http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2007/spring/tax-lists.html 2.) http://www.macungie.org/the-fries-rebellion-of-1798-99.html

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