Today we celebrate the brilliant scientist and engineer Benjamin Banneker on this second day of Black History Month. Benjamin Banneker was born November 9, 1731 in Ellicott’s Mills, Maryland. Growing up he was educated by his white grandmother Molly Welsh (on his mother’s side). Banneker loved to learn but because he worked on his family farm, he was forced to leave school in order to assist full time. Banneker’s yearning for knowledge never ceased and because of it he was continuously reading books. By the age of 22, Banneker was able to design and create a wooden clock from memory only after seeing a sundial and a pocket watch. Banneker’s clock kept accurate time and continued to work until it was destroyed in a house fire on the day of his burial. Between the years of 1791 to 1802, Banneker publish six annual publications of the Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia Almanac and Ephemeris (in twenty-eight editions).
Benjamin Banneker’s most famous contribution was his work in the surveying and design of the District of Columbia. Banneker’s previous work had caught the eye of Thomas Jefferson (frequent admirer and critic of Banneker) and although he was a self-taught surveyor, Jefferson recommended him to assist George Ellicott and Pierre Charles L’Enfant (who were originally hired by George Washington) in the designing of the capital. Around 1789, after L’Enfant quit halfway through the project, Banneker reproduced the complete design from memory, in two days and allowed for the project to continue as planned.
Benjamin Banneker died at the age of 74 in Boston Massachusetts on Sunday, October 9, 1806. His brilliant work helped advance science, technology, astronomy and so much more. Although the status of an African American in the 1700’s could have prevented him from all that he accomplished he strove for excellence, pushing the boundaries of social injustices and paving the way for African American’s in the sciences today.
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