Saturday, November 9, 2013

Happy Birthday: Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806)

Benjamin Banneker was born on this date in 1731. He was a self-taught, Black astronomer and mathematician.

He was born in Ellicott, MD. At the age of 22, Benjamin Banneker created a working clock from wood after studying the watch of a friend. It took him two years to finish the clock, which kept accurate time in hours, minutes, and seconds until his death.

Banneker became interested in astronomy through a local surveyor named George Ellicott, who loaned him astronomy books. In 1791, George Washington commissioned George Ellicott and French engineer Pierre L'Enfant to help plan the construction of the nation's capital on a ten-square-mile area of land. Ellicott asked Banneker to be his assistant. A dispute between some Americans and Frenchmen led L'Enfant to abandon it and take the drafted plans with him. Over the course of two days, Banneker reproduced the intricate plans from memory, preventing a major delay.

Shortly after returning to his farm in April 1791, Banneker issued his first of some ten annual almanacs, which were published by several printers and sold widely in both England and the United States. Banneker charted the movement of heavenly bodies and successfully predicted several solar eclipses. Farmers and navigators relied on this important information.

Banneker and his sisters were born free and grew up on a self-sufficient, 100-acre tobacco farm. Growing up, he spent much of his free time devising and solving mathematical puzzles. It was not until after his retirement from farming at the age of 59 that Banneker began to study astronomy through borrowed books, becoming a man of science and mathematics through unassisted experimentation and close observation of natural phenomena.

Benjamin Banneker died in 1806.

3 comments:

kennyx6 said...

I am very impress with the life story of Benjamin Banneker. His story should he known by every African American. Perhaps someone will produce a movie, B'way show or video featuring Mr. Banneker life story. A Honorary Doctorate from a major university would also be nice.

Villager said...

Kenny - I appreciate you for taking time to post a comment. I get very little feedback in the COMMENTS section on this blog.

re: Banneker. He is a remarkable story. We need to tell OURstory and stop relying on HIStory! :)

A. Lauer said...

If anyone who reads this blog lives in Maryland, there is an excellent park and museum on the site of Banneker's farm in Baltimore County. Volunteers are working to rebuild the farm itself as a learning tool. A replica of Ben's cabin was just erected, as was an orchard. They plan to keep adding to the farm using plants and maybe animals that Ben would have had. It's a really lovely place to visit, and the museum staff is always happy to share their knowledge with visitors.