Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806) was an astronomer, surveyor, and self-taught mathematician who made major contributions to American science and culture. He was born in Maryland to a free African American family and spent much of his life working as a farmer.
Despite having little access to formal education, Banneker learned mathematics and astronomy on his own. He applied his skills to construct a series of almanacs that supplied farmers and sailors with vital information such as weather forecasts and tide patterns. Banneker’s almanacs also included scientific and mathematical questions, as well as articles on issues such as slavery abolition.
Aside from his work as a scientist and novelist, Banneker was instrumental in determining the limits of the new federal city of Washington, D.C. He collaborated with a team of surveyors, led by Major Andrew Ellicott, to plan the city’s streets and public buildings.
The life and career of Benjamin Banneker demonstrate the power of self-education and dedication. As an African American at a period of pervasive racial prejudice, he proved that brilliance and talent are not restricted by color or socioeconomic class. Today, Banneker is acknowledged as a significant figure in American history, and his contributions to science, mathematics, and civil rights are recognized.