Truman Henry Safford bigraphy, stories - American astronomer

Truman Henry Safford : biography

6 January 1836 - 13 June 1901

Truman Henry Safford (6 January 1836 – 13 June 1901 ) was an American calculating prodigy. In later life he was an observatory director.

He was born in Royalton, Vermont, USA on 6 January 1836. At an early age he attracted public attention by his remarkable calculation powers. At the age of nine, a local priest asked him to multiply (365,365,365,365,365,365)^2 by itself. In less than a minute he gave the correct answer of 133,491,850,208,566,925,016,658,299,941,583,225 with no paper. At around this age he also developed a new rule for calculating the moon's risings and settings, taking one-quarter of the time of the existing method.

Unlike many other calculating prodigies, Safford did not give public exhibitions. He went to college and studied astronomy. He became the second director of the Hopkins Observatory at Williams College, the oldest extant astronomical observatory in the United States. He served as director of the Observatory until his death in 1901. The Safford Fund for Williams College student researchers was created by his descendants to honor him. A portrait of him as a child prodigy hangs in the Hopkins Observatory's Mehlin Museum of Astronomy, adjacent to the Milham Planetarium. His natural calculating abilities seemed to wane with age.


  • The Remarkable `Lightning Calculator,' Truman Henry Safford, Harvard Magazine, vol. 85 (1982), pp. 54-56. Co-author: K.R. Lewis.
  • "Obituary: Truman Henry Safford," The Observatory, vol. 24 (1901), pp. 307–309,
  • "The Celebration of the Semi-Centennial of the Chicago Astronomical Society and the Dedication of a Tablet to the Memory of Truman Henry Safford," Popular Astronomy, vol. 21 (1913), pp. 473–479,
  • "Truman Henry Safford", Science, Volume 14, Issue 340 (1901), pp. 22–24,

Category:Mental calculators Category:American astronomers Category:1836 births Category:1901 deaths Category:People from Windham County, Vermont

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