Simon Newcomb Fact File Biography: Lifespan: 1835 – 1909 *** Full Name: Simon Newcomb *** Occupation: Canadian-American Astronomer, Autodidactic Polymath and Applied Mathematician *** Date of Birth: Simon Newcomb was born on March 12th 1835 *** Place of Birth: Simon Newcomb was born in Wallace, Nova Scotia, Canada *** Family background: His father was John Burton Newcomb an itinerant school teacher and his mother was Emily Prince a New Brunswick magistrate’s daughter *** Early life and childhood: Simon Newcomb grew up in Nova Scotia with his family *** Education: Simon Newcomb was largely educated by his father ***
Simon Newcomb Fact 1: Simon Newcomb was born on March 12th 1835 and during the 19th century period in history when scientific discoveries were being made and innovations in mathematics, physics, biology, electricity and chemistry were moving very fast.
Simon Newcomb Fact 2: At sixteen it was arranged that he apprentice with a Dr Foshay, for five years learning the art of treating illnesses using herbs. It would transpire, after two years, Newcomb came to the conclusion that Foshay was nothing more than a fraud and he left.
Simon Newcomb Fact 3: Simon Newcomb found passage aboard a ship from Calais in Main that would take him to Salem in Massachusetts where his father had moved. Once he was with his father, the pair travelled to Maryland.
Simon Newcomb Fact 4: Following in his father’s footsteps, he secured a job teaching. The first year was spent in Massey’s Cross Roads, a country school and the following year in Sudlersville in Queen Anne’s County.
Simon Newcomb Fact 5: During his time off he enjoyed studying various other topics like religion and political economy but his real passion was for astronomy and mathematics. One of his favorite books was Newton’s Principia.
Simon Newcomb Fact 6: By 1856 Simon Newcomb had secured another position, this time as a private tutor near Washington which gave him access to the various libraries in the area.
Simon Newcomb Fact 7: Although he worked as a teacher to support himself, Simon Newcomb was also studying of physics and mathematics. In 1857 he began attending the Lawrence Scientific School of Harvard University and he graduated with a Bachelor of Science the following year.
Simon Newcomb Fact 8: Benjamin Peirce was his tutor for mathematics and Newcomb was often found at Peirce’s residence and a frequent guest.
Simon Newcomb Fact 9: Newcomb did however develop a decided dislike to Charles Sanders Peirce, Benjamin’s son, and on two occasions at least sabotaged his career opportunities. On the first occasion was by persuading the president of Johns Hopkins University not to give Pierce the tenure and many years later he again influenced the Carnegie Institution Trustees not to publish his life’s work.Simon Newcomb Fact 15: By 1884 Simon Newcomb had become professor of astronomy and mathematics at Johns Hopkins University and much more demanding but thoroughly fulfilling role. While there he, together with A.M.W. Downing began to plan and execute the confusion surrounding the subject globally.
Simon Newcomb Fact 10: In the lead up to the American Civil War, those staff members with Confederate sympathies began to abandon their U.S. Navy positions. In Newcomb’s favor he was able to secure one of the vacant positions, that of professor of mathematics and astronomer. The position was in the United States Naval Observatory in Washington D.C.
Simon Newcomb Fact 11: Simon Newcomb immediately set about charting the planets as a means of navigating and became more involved in the planetary motion theories.
Simon Newcomb Fact 12: He had the opportunity to travel to Paris in 1870 although his stay was somewhat limited due to the downfall of the French emperor Napoleon III during the Franco-Prussian War as the well as witnessing the coup that saw the end of the Second French Empire. Simon Newcomb just managed to escape the city in the confusion of the riots taking place that would lead to the establishment of the Paris Commune which surrounded the Paris Observatory.
Simon Newcomb Fact 13: Having been offered the position as director at the Harvard College Observatory but turned it down as he was by then more interested in the mathematics that the observational.
Simon Newcomb Fact 14: Instead he would become the director of the Nautical Almanac Office in 1877 and was assisted by George William Hill and they began a catalogue of all the main astronomical constants and recalculated them.
Simon Newcomb Fact 16: In May of 1896 he attended a conference in Paris that was being held to standardize the international consensus that all ephemerides should in future be based on Newcomb’s calculations and would become known as Newcomb’s Tables of the Sun.
Simon Newcomb Fact 17: Simon Newcomb died on July 11, 1909 of bladder cancer aged seventy four in Washington D.C. His body laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors and in the present of President William Howard Taft.
Influence & Legacy: By 1950 another conference would be held confirming the international standards to be used were Newcomb’s constants.
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