He worked as a coach maker's apprentice, then was involved in the cloth-shearing industry manufacturing and selling machines.
Later he started a glue factory which was a great success, before building the Canton iron works in Baltimore. He designed the first steam powered railroad engine in the USA, named Tom Thumb, in 1830. In 1854 he oversaw the production of the first structural iron beams.
He founded the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art
He ran in the 1876 presidential election for the Greenback Party.