Who built the first American clock?

Friday, February 9, 2024
Old-fashioned almanac with picture of Benjamin Banneker on the cover

The son of a formerly enslaved man likely built the first American clock.

Benjamin Banneker was a self-taught mathematician, astronomer, and writer who lived in the 18th century. As a teenager growing up on his parents’ farm outside of Baltimore, he taught himself advanced mathematics from borrowed textbooks, and then, using his own observations of the movements of the stars, he successfully predicted a solar eclipse!

Around age 21, Banneker borrowed a wealthy acquaintance’s European-made pocket watch, carefully disassembled and rebuilt it, and used it as a design to create a clock out of wooden pieces he hand-carved. This clock, the first known clock created entirely in what became the United States, was incredibly precise and worked for decades afterwards!

When he was older, Banneker published several almanacs – books that provided useful information for working people such as predictions about weather and astronomy. In 1791, he sent one to Thomas Jefferson as evidence of Black people’s equal intelligence.

Today, we remember Banneker as someone always seeking to understand the world around him – and change it for the better.