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 action figure.