Mark Twain’s 180th Birthday

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Mark Twain, detail of photo by Mathew Brady, February 7, 1871

Today I am celebrating the 180th birthday of one of my favorite personalities: printer, typesetter, journalist, humorist, philosopher, businessman, lecturer, world traveler, family man, passionate American, and of course, author Samuel Longhorn Clemens (M:.M:.), better known under one of his pen names, “Mark Twain”. (Clemens also wrote under the name of “Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass”).

Twain had a great interest in the sciences, among them astronomy. (He was born in the year of Comet Halley’s appearance in 1835, and just as he predicted, he died in the year of the comet’s subsequent appearance of 1910). In his autobiography, he wrote:

“I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year (1910), and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.’ “

Lesser known among Twain’s many other talents and pursuits is that he was also an ardent inventor and innovator — who earned (and lost) fortunes with his patents and contraptions, going from great wealth to bankruptcy and back to wealth several times in his life. Among other things, he invented a history trivia game and a self-pasting scrapbook, which earned him $50,000 in the years after 1873.

Twain was also quite a lady’s man, and one of his inventions, the “Improvement in adjustable and detachable straps for garments” (U.S. Patent 121992 A, Dec 19, 1871) must have made interesting dinner conversation in Victorian houses.

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