The National Business League

Founded by Dr. Booker T. Washington – August 23, 1900


Benjamin Banneker

Benjamin Banneker

Mathematician and clockmaker

In his early twenties, Benjamin Banneker hand-carved a wooden clock that was said to keep perfect time. He had picked up the mechanical skills necessary to build it through observing the gears of a pocket watch, and his clock became a local curiosity. The clock was indicative of the creativity, ingenuity, and determination that would serve Banneker throughout his lifetime.

Born in Maryland in 1731, Banneker’s experience differed from most people of African descent living in the colonies at that time in several key ways; he was free at birth, he received a formal education, and he built up a reputation as an authority on the subjects of mechanics and mathematics. Nurturing a growing interest in astronomy throughout his adult life, Banneker dedicated himself to mastering that pursuit following the American Revolution, and forecast his first eclipse at the age of 58. The connections he forged as a member of Maryland’s intellectual community led to him assisting with surveying the land for the new nation’s capital city, directly challenging broad assumptions about the capabilities of people of African descent held by leading government officials at the time.

In the 1790s, Banneker began publishing an almanac to assist farmers in predicting weather patterns, as well as a vehicle to share his own philosophical reflections. Included in his first issue was an abolitionist essay, and Banneker mailed an advance copy to Thomas Jefferson. In his correspondence with the founding father, Banneker pointed out the hypocrisy of the continuation of slavery in a new nation founded on the principles of freedom. Banneker, and others, saw his life’s work as evidence that intellectual capability was not tied to race.

Benjamin Banneker’s inventions came before the advent of the patent system in the United States, but his contributions to early American innovation and intellectual thought are uncontested