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David Rittenhouse. Oil on canvas, 1796, by Charles Willson Peale. The Art Experience.

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Rittenhouse, David (08 April 1732–26 June 1796), astronomer, mathematician, and maker of mathematical instruments, was born at Paper Mill Run near Germantown, Pennsylvania, the son of Matthias Rittenhouse, a farmer, and Elizabeth Williams. Naturally talented in mathematics and mechanics, Rittenhouse constructed a model of a water mill at the age of eight, a wooden clock at about the age of seventeen, and a brass clock a short time later. He was fascinated with mathematics from his early years but, with little opportunity for schooling, was largely self-taught from books on elementary arithmetic and geometry and a box of tools inherited from an uncle, David Williams, a skilled furniture maker. From a translation of Isaac Newton’s ...