Despite a lack of formal education, Cooper already had a wealth of experience by age sixteen, having helped his father in a variety of enterprises such as a hatter, brewer, store-keeper, and brick-maker. Following an apprenticeship to a coachmaker, Cooper purchased a clothes-shearing machine, which served as a basis for a profitable business during the War of 1812. When peace brought smaller profits, he sold out to open a grocery store, which brought him the revenue to reenter the manufacturing world. Deciding that his future lay in manufacturing, Cooper bought a glue factory which soon developed a monopoly by supplying the American market with quality and isinglass much superior in quality to foreign imports. Eventually, the demands of the business outgrew his energy, and he brought his son, Edward, and son-in-law, Abram Hewitt, into business. While Cooper's glue factory created the foundation of his fortune, the Canton Iron Works, created the bulk of it. In 1828, along with two partners, Cooper erected the iron works on 3,000 acres of hilly land within the city limits of Baltimore. Knowing the future success of this venture depended on the viability of the then-failing Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, Cooper built the first steam engine locomotive, to effectively handle transportation to his new facility. Other business ventures included a wire manufactory in Trenton, NJ, blast furnaces in Philipsburg, PA, a rolling mill in New York, foundries in Ringewood, NJ, and Durham, PA, and iron mines in northern New Jersey. In 1854, his Trenton factory rolled the first structural iron for fireproof buildings, which helped win him the 1870 award of the Bessemer Gold Medal, by the British Iron and Steel Institute. Other notable accomplishments include presidency of both the New York, Newfoundland & London and North American Telegraph Companies, the latter at one time owning or controlling over half of America's telegraph lines. Additional inventions include the washing machine, followed by a machine for compressing hubs, and others for compressed air propulsion of ferry boats, utilizing the power of the tide, and for moving canal barges by an endless chain run by water power. He also used gravity as a power source, in an endless chain of buckets in one of his mines. Most remembered for his philanthropic spirit, Cooper was an early advocate of paid police and fire departments, sanitary water conditions and public schools, during his service of New York City's Board of Aldermen. A supporter of the Greenback party, he ran for President in the national elections of 1876, in hopes of bringing his views on the currency to the American public. His greatest monument is the Cooper Union or Cooper Institute at Astor Place, New York City, which he founded in 1857-59, "for the advancement of science and art."