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Simon Newcomb. Pen and ink drawing by Robert Kastor, 1903. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-99410).


Newcomb, Simon (12 March 1835–11 July 1909), mathematical astronomer and political economist, was born in Wallace, Nova Scotia, the son of John Burton Newcomb, an itinerant schoolteacher, and Emily Prince. Through reading and home instruction, young Newcomb gained a solid, basic education, though he spent long hours working on neighboring farms. At age sixteen he became an apprentice to a New Brunswick herbal “doctor.” Increasingly disillusioned with the herbalist, he ended the agreement after two years by fleeing to the United States. (Descended from New Englanders, he became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1864.)...