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


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 ...