Mark Twain was many things—a writer, a shrewd social critic, an adventurer, and a cat lover. From a young age he worked hard to provide for his family, at the cost of his education, but that didn’t stop him from paving his way towards literary stardom! He drew inspiration from his colourful life and later published widely acclaimed novels, like, ‘Adventures of Tom Sawyer’ and ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’, earning him the title, the “Father of American Literature”. So, read on to learn 52 facts about Mark Twain.
Fact 1: Before he became known by his pen-name, Mark Twain was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens.
- He was an American writer, entrepreneur, publisher, and lecturer.
Fact 2: Mark Twain was born on November 30, 1835, in the town of Florida, Missouri.
- He was born exactly two weeks after Halley’s comet appeared during its closest approach to Earth.
Fact 3: He was the 6th of 7 siblings.
- Mark’s parents were Jane and John Marshall Clemens.
Fact 4: Mark Twain’s father, John Marshall Clemens, was from a family that owned land and slaves in the state of Virginia.
- He also served as a steamboat and railroad commissioner.
Fact 5: He worked at ‘Hannibal Journal’ for many years.
- When his father died of pneumonia in 1846, Twain was forced to quit school and work as a printer’s apprentice to help support his family.
Fact 6: He became a steamboat pilot in 1859.
- This was after he befriended Horace E. Biby, a steamboat pilot, and memorizing over 2000 miles of riverbed.
Fact 7: At the age of 18, Twain started working as a printer, travelling from Missouri to New York, Cincinnati, Philadelphia and St. Louis.
- When he was in St. Louis he became fascinated with river boating.
Fact 8: His pen name “Mark Twain” was inspired from his experience as a licensed river pilot.
- The term “mark twain” means it is safe to sail because the water’s depth is two fathoms, or 12 feet.
Fact 9: He also worked as a miner and a journalist.
- The river trade was negatively affected by the Civil War, so Twain travelled west to Virginia City, Nevada at the height of the silver rush to become a miner.
Fact 10: He started using his pen name “Mark Twain” when he worked as a journalist at the ‘Virginia City Newspaper’.
- However, he also had other pseudonyms that he used as a writer such as Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass, W. Epaminondas Adrastus Blab, Sergeant Fathom, and Rambler
Fact 11: In 1865, he has his first brush with fame with, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” which he wrote for the New York Saturday Press.
- It became an instant success and allowed him to secure a job with the ‘Sacramento Union’.
Fact 12: He took great pride in knowing that he could self-educate himself by reading and could learn through experiences.
- This was the outcome of him leaving school early.
Fact 13: The Sacramento Union commissioned him to create a series of travelogues about Sandwich Islands, now famously known as the state of Hawaii.
- The travelogues went on to become a national success.
Fact 14: He published his first book “The Innocents Abroad” in 1869.
- The book humorously chronicles what Twain called his “Great Pleasure Excursion” on board the chartered vessel “Quaker City” through Europe and the Holy Land with a group of American travelers in 1867.
Fact 15: His experiences growing up in Missouri was the inspiration for his famous book, “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” which was published in 1876.
- Inspired by his youth, Twain wrote down the clever escapades of a young boy.
Fact 16: In 1885, he published another widely acclaimed book “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”.
- And it’s been credited as the first “Great American Novel.”
Fact 17: Some say he was very wise and would often make up interesting, yet inspiring quotes about life.
- For example, “Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Fact 18: He was often commenting on issues regarding slavery, racism and cruelty surrounding animals.
- In fact, Twain was an adamant supporter of the abolition of slavery and the emancipation of slaves, even going so far as to say, “Lincoln’s Proclamation … not only set the black slaves free, but set the white man free also”.
Fact 19: He married Olivia Langdon in 1870.
- Olivia was from a wealthy family, through which Twain was given the opportunity to meet many famous people.
Fact 20: Throughout the course of his literary career, Twain published a total of 28 books, as well as essays, articles and short stories.
- ‘Eve’s Diary’ is one example of a short story, that was published in 1905.
Fact 21: He died on April 21, 1910 at the age of 74.
- His death came just a day after Halley’s comet returned….
Fact 22: He led the American Anti-Imperialist League before he passed away.
- Twain vehemently opposed the annexation of the Philippines by the United States and had “tens of thousands of members”.
Fact 23: The “The Mark Twain Prize for American Humor” is an award named after him.
- It’s an American award presented by the ‘John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ annually, and has been presented since 1998.
Fact 24: As of today, 20 individuals have received “The Mark Twain Prize for American Humor”.
- Among them are Richard Pryor, Whoopi Goldberg, Carl Reiner, Jonathan Winters, Ellen Degeneres, Tina Fey, Will Ferrel, Eddie Murphy and Bill Murray.
Fact 25: He even has his own asteroid named after him.
- 2362 Mark Twain.
Fact 26: In 1985, USPS issued a stamped envelope in honour of Mark Twain and Halley’s comet.
- Also, in June 25, 2011, the Postal Service released a Forever stamp in Twain’s honour.
Fact 27: His brother Henry died on June 21, 1858, from a steamboat explosion.
- The steamboat “Pennsylvania” exploded on June 13, 1858.
Fact 28: He was raised a Presbyterian.
- However as an adult, his views on religion were rather different from the views he held during his childhood.
Fact 29: He briefly served as a ‘confederate militia’.
- Mark Twain served as a second lieutenant for two weeks.
Fact 30: Huckleberry Finn, who made an appearance in, ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,’ was said to be based on a real-life person.
- His name was Tom Blankenship, a boy Mark Twain knew when he was still living in Hannibal, Missouri.
Fact 31: Mark Twain is known for his trademark white suit.
- It was meant to depict Twain’s attitude towards life, calling his suit his “don’t care a damn” get-up.
Fact 32: The book titled, ‘Huckleberry Finn Adventures’ was banned by Concord Massachusetts just a month after it was published in America.
- The book focuses on slavery, and uses blunt language to discuss racism and slavery, this has made Huckleberry Finn the centre of frequent controversy.
Fact 33: At one point in his life he was declared bankrupt.
- Although Twain earned a great deal of money from his writings and lectures, he invested in failed ventures and lost a lot of money—such as the Paige Compositor, a mechanical typesetter that failed because of its complexity and imprecision.
Fact 34: Twain invented a self-sticking scrapbook.
- He designed the scrapbook to remove the long and cumbersome step of preparing the glue necessary to paste items into a scrapbook.
Fact 35: He invented elastic straps for pants and bras too.
- As Twain himself said, “ The nature of my invention consists in an adjustable and detachable elastic strap for vests, pantaloons, or other garments requiring straps as will be hereinafter more fully set forth”.
Fact 36: His would-be-wife, Olivia, actually rejected his 1st marriage proposal.
- Thankfully, the 2nd proposal was accepted, and they had 4 children.
Fact 37: Their last surviving child was Clara who died in 1962.
- Clara’s daughter Nina died in 1966, she was the last surviving member of the Twain family, which means that Twain’s line ended with her death.
Fact 38: Mark Twain lived with 19 cats.
- He adored the little felines so much that at one point he commented, “If man could be crossed with the cat, it would improve man, but it would deteriorate the cat.”
Fact 39: When he was born he was so tiny, frail and unwell, his mother didn’t think there was much hope for him beyond his early years, if that.
- His siblings suffered the same way.
Fact 40: He once had red hair.
- Quite different to pictures taken of him with white hair which we are more familiar with seeing.
Fact 41: Twain dreamt of ghosts.
- This is where Twain’s interest in ‘parapsychology’ began.
Fact 42: He was one of the first people to sign up for the ‘Society for Psychical Research’.
- This is where they study the paranormal, and the other activities that science just fails to explain.
Fact 43: In 1909, Thomas Edison visited Twain’s estate in Redding, Connecticut.
- During his visit, Edison filmed the famous author, making it the only known recording of Twain in existence.
Fact 44: Nikola Tesla and Mark Twain were friends, and mutual admirers.
- Tesla was a Serbian-American inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, and futurist, who is best known for his contributions to the design of the modern alternating current electricity supply system.
Fact 45: Orion, Twain’s brother, was the first and only Secretary of the Nevada Territory.
- Following Lincoln’s election as President that year, Clemens was appointed Secretary to the new government of the ‘Territory of Nevada’ he received a salary of $1,800 a year.
Fact 46: He was approached by Alexander Graham Bell about a potential investment opportunity.
- Graham Bell was an American inventor credited with inventing and patenting the first telephone.
Fact 47: Twain is said to have never gotten over his brother Henry’s death, (he passed away while on the boat “Pennsylvania”).
- According to reports, Twain apparently had a premonition that his brother would be hurt on the boat.
Fact 48: Mark Twain predicted his own death.
- He said in 1909, “I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, 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.
Fact 49: Twain wasn’t a big fan of Jane Austen.
- To the point that he once said, “Every time I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone”.
Fact 50: William Faulkner called him “the father of American literature.”
- Quite fitting since Twain’s work continues to resonate with us today!
Fact 51: Twain avoided using exclamation marks in his writings as much as he could.
- His reasoning was that he thought it was silly to laugh at his own jokes.
Fact 52: He published a memoir on President Ulysses Grant.
- The memoir would later be both Twain and Grant’s saving grace from financial ruin.