Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806)
A self-taught mathematician and astronomer, Benjamin
Banneker was a pioneer of many things and accomplishments. Born
a free man on a tobacco farm in Ellicott Mills, Maryland in 1731,
Banneker lived during a time when Blacks in America were enslaved
and denied rights. Despite these conditions, Banneker proved Blacks
could excel when given the opportunity.
As a young adult, Banneker was mesmerized by
a pocket watch a friend gave him and had a strong desire to see
how it worked. After examining how the intricate wheels and gears
functioned, Banneker replicated the mechanics into a large wood
clock that kept perfect time for over 40 years. In fact, many
believe that this clock made by Banneker was the first to be crafted
entirely in America. This experiment led him to fixing watches,
clocks and sundials and reawakened Banneker’s youthful interest
in science and astronomy.
In 1791, Major Andrew Ellicott asked Banneker
to be one of the six men to survey the Federal Territory later
to become known as Washington, DC. Working with Pierre L'Enfant,
the chief architect, Banneker became an expert on the plans. When
L'Enfant was dismissed from the project because of his temper
and took the plans with him, legend has it that Banneker reproduced
the plans from memory, saving the government time and money.
Considered America’s first Black scientist
and first civil engineer, Banneker intensely pursued his study
of astronomy, eventually predicting future solar and lunar eclipses.
Banneker’s almanac was the first scientific book published
by a Black American. Benjamin Banneker’s Almanac predicted
solar and lunar eclipse, tides and positions of the sun, moon
and planets from 1792-1797.
Though he was born a free man, Banneker endeavored
to speak out against slavery and disprove prejudice beliefs about
Blacks. In a critical letter to Thomas Jefferson, author of the
Declaration of Independence, Banneker challenged how Jefferson
could write “all men are created equal” when Blacks
were enslaved and Jefferson himself owned many slaves. Jefferson
simply responded by admitting Banneker was equally as talented
as men of other races but refused to comment on the political
issue of slavery which Banneker raised.
In Banneker was the first Black person to earn
a presidential appointment. In fact, for his intelligence and
ability to succeed during a time when Blacks were oppressed, Banneker
became known internationally as “sable genius.” Never
marrying, he died quietly in his home in Ellicott Mills, Maryland
in 1806. In honor of his contributions to the city of Washington,
DC, a memorial circle and fountain were constructed in the city.
His legacy also lives on in the many schools named after him and
the Benjamin Banneker Historical Park & Museum located in
Baltimore, Maryland, on the grounds of the Banneker farm. In 1980,
the United States Postal Service created a stamp in his honor.
In honor of Banneker’s many achievements,
HIA Toys is proud to offer our Stargazer