On July 4th, Americans celebrate the formation of their country! While people tend to focus on the battles and fireworks of The Revolutionary War, it took a lot of knowledge to build a new nation. From building the rules for a fair democratic system to creating a brand new money system, math was part of the foundation. Spark Math by Spark Education look at how the founding fathers used math to help build The United States of America.
The Founding Fathers of America and Math
The founding fathers of the United States were businessmen, lawyers, brewers, doctors, and so much more. They all had in common a passion to be free from the rules of another nation without fair representation. That is, they believed that the English Crown had no right to tax Americans who lacked representation in British Parliament.
When they got together to write and sign The Declaration of Independence, they were ready to separate from England but knew that building a successful new nation would take more than guns and ships. They worked together to create systems that used math as the basis for how the government should be fair to all people, which we still see today. Here are some of the founding fathers whose math skills help build the country.
Thomas Jefferson was the 3rd president of the U.S. and was famous for saying that his favorite subject in school was math. He used his passion for math to become very knowledgeable about many different subjects, from architecture to farming. Jefferson would go on to create a better plow for farming.
The moldboard plow was based on his knowledge of angles and how they can be used to till the soil better for farming. This would become one of the most effective plows, especially after he created the first iron cast moldboard plow. Think of the iron cast upgrade like going from iPhone 3 to iPhone 14 plus. This iron version of his plow helped make farming easier for people, helping make more food and new businesses across the nation.
Math wasn’t just a skill used by Jefferson as a way to build the country, he also was an acclaimed musician, known mostly for the violin. To become great at playing and writing music, Jefferson had to have a great understanding of patterns and intervals. He was able to use his passion for math to create great music and also used science and math to create and spread another passion of his, ice cream. He would go on to write the first known recipe for ice cream in America and help spread this tasty treat across the whole country.
Math also factored significantly in another founding father, Alexander Hamilton. He served as the first Secretary of Treasury during George Washington’s presidency. While recognized as the father of the American Financial System, Hamilton is a great example of someone who struggled with math but never gave up on it.
Hamilton was born on a Caribbean island and grew up poor. His father abandoned the family and when his mother died when he was 11 years old, making him an orphan, he couldn’t go to school because he had to work. He began working as a clerk in a general store and soon after, he was put in charge of all the financing and accounting. Hamilton showed so much talent in his job working with numbers, that the town donated money for him to come to the US colonies to get a formal education. He would help start the Revolutionary War as an aid to George Washington and an officer in the revolutionary army.
He would re-team with Washington to become, as we mentioned earlier, the United State’s 1st Secretary of the Treasury. This was a title and job description created specifically to use Hamilton’s talents to build a new and strong economy. He would go on to establish the Bank of the United States, the federal debt, and the national currency. While he may not have been the best math student growing up, he became passionate about finance and used math concepts to help build the world’s strongest economy.
Benjamin Franklin is a great scientist and inventor who focused on the functional aspects of math in many areas of his life. While he is most famous for his experiments with electricity, he was self-taught in many educational ways including mathematics. In his autobiography he wrote:
And now it was that, being on some occasion made asham’d of my ignorance in figures, which I had twice failed in learning while at school, I took Cocker’s book of arithmetick, and went through the whole by myself with great ease.The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
Franklin loved using math to play games, and even created his own, Franklin’s Magic Squares. He used a method of constructing “magic squares” of sequential numbers that would create the same sums in the rows, columns, and diagonals. Here’s an 8×8 Franklin’s Magic Square. Try it for yourself. The rows, columns, and the V-shaped lines Franklin called “bent diagonals” all add up to equal to the sum of 260.
Franklin joked that he created the game as something to do at lengthy debates. Using games and gamified learning is a great way to strengthen math skills and practice new concepts. One of the greatest minds in American history took time out to have fun with math and numbers.
Math and America
Math has been the backbone of what makes America one of the leaders of the world. This passion for education started with the founding fathers and inspired the great math all-stars of today. Whether they were always passionate about math or found what drove them to use math and excel in it, The United States is built by great people who knew the importance math plays in a successful country and careers.
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