Born in 1791, Peter Cooper epitomized the industrious, "create your own destiny" American of the nineteenth century. He began as a coach maker's apprentice but worked in various crafts and professions over the years, including cabinetmaker, hatmaker, and grocer. He purchased a glue factory in Kips Bay in 1821, built the first steam locomotive in the United States, the Tom Thumb, which debuted in 1830 for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, and in 1836 began operating an iron rolling mill.
Cooper also invested in land and insurance. He ran for president of the United States in 1876 under the Greenback Party. But his most enduring and visible contribution was the 1853 founding of the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, today's Cooper Union.
Cooper died on April 4, 1883, and was buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, NY.