American instrument maker, inventor, and astronomer. He is credited with being the first to introduce the use of cross hairs (spider web) in transit telescopes. Using his own instruments, he made several important contributions including a calculator of the sun's parallax. As a surveyor, he was responsible for establishing the basis of what became the Mason and Dixon line demarking Pennsylvania from Maryland. At his death he was regarded as the foremost American scientist/mathematician of the day.
He constructed two orreries that displayed planetary motions (one survives at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia). He continued to work at and publish a variety of scientific and mathematical problems. During the American Revolution he served with the Philadelphia Committee of Safety, and oversaw the manufacture of arms and munitions. A member of the convention that produced Pennsylvania's constitution in 1776, he was state treasurer 1777–89, a teacher of astronomy at the University of Pennsylvania 1777–89, a commissioner who set up the First Bank of the United States in 1791, and first director of the US Mint 1792–95. In 1791 he became president of the American Philosophical Society and in 1795 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of London.
He was born in Paper Mill Run, Pennsylvania. Largely self-taught, he was a mathematical prodigy and showed a talent for mechanics; by the age of 19 he was an innovative clockmaker, and during his early twenties he was making telescopes.
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Artist: American School, (19th century) Location: Private Collection Credit: Benjamin Franklin (engraving), American School, (19th century) / Privat