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Benjamin Banneker - America's First Clock



Benjamin Banneker was born a free man in Maryland on November 9, 1731. A land-owning farmer of modest means, Banneker nevertheless lived a life of unusual achievement. In 1751, Banneker borrowed a pocket watch from a well-to-do neighbor; he took it apart and studied it’s workings. He made a drawing of each component, then reassembled the watch and returned it, fully functioning, to its owner. From his drawings Banneker then proceeded to carve, out of wood, enlarged replicas of each part.


Calculating the proper number of teeth for each gear and the necessary relationships between the gears, he completed construction of a working wooden clock in 1753 that kept accurate time and struck the hours for over 50 years until it was destroyed along with most of Banneker’s other belongings in a mysterious house fire that took place on the day of Banneker’s funeral. Benjamin Banneker has been credited for making the first clock to be built completely in America.


Banneker attended a few years of school as a very young child but was entirely self-educated after the 2nd grade. He lived most of the first 60 years his life within a few miles of his property where he spent his time farming, studying, reading, and exchanging correspondence with other scholars. He enjoyed math, science, and music among other things. He played the violin and flute and became accomplished at both. He was known to keep a large table in the middle of his home that was usually full of various papers and instruments he used for his many hobbies. After the completion of his clock Banneker had numerous visitors who traveled great distances to see his work and learn from him. From what we know he enjoyed many long conversations with other scholars about various things he had interest in. Banneker also would exchange and complete challenging math problems with other mathematicians via mail. Banneker's quest for knowledge was a lifelong passion as he continually seemed to push himself to explore and learn more about everything he could regardless of his age or what other people told him he could or couldn't do. He was on a never-ending quest for knowledge and that would continue throughout his entire life.  


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