Ward's Book of Days.

Pages of interesting anniversaries.

What happened on this day in history.


On this day in history in 1642, was born Sir Isaac Newton.

Newton was the greatest scientist that Britain, or even the world, has produced. He is famous for the binomial theorem and the differential calculus, for the Laws of Motion, the diffusion of light and for the discovering the principal of gravity.  

Newton was born in Lincolnshire at Woolsthorpe Manor, now a museum in his honour. [open to the public. 23 Newton Way, Woolsthorpe-by-Colsterworth, Near Grantham, Lincolnshire NG33 5NR.] His father died when he was young, his mother remarried and he spent a neglected childhood, receiving an elementary education which leaned more towards the Classics than arithmetic.  

When his stepfather died, Newton was expected to look after the family lands but his efforts were so inefficient, the family decided that there was only one suitable place for Master Isaac and that was the Varsity. Newton was therefore packed off to Trinity College, Cambridge.

 At that time, mathematical theories were based on Aristotle, but Newton read more modern theories such as Descartes, Galileo and Kepler. He developed the binomial theory and worked on a new theory that would later be known as calculus. When Newton obtained his degree in 1665, the Great Plague stuck and the universities were closed. Newton now worked at home on the theories of optics and the Law of Gravitation. 

It was this period that was Newton’s most productive. His experiments showed that white light is made up of colours, which can be separated using a prism and reconstituted as white light by means of a second prism. It is said that Newton discovered gravity when an apple fell from a tree onto his head and he speculated as to what natural force could be responsible. The actual apple tree later became a tourist attraction at his Lincolnshire home. A descendant of that tree now stands outside Trinity College, Cambridge.[ Trinity Street, Cambridge  CB2 3RF] 

When the university reopened in 1667, Newton’s work enabled him to obtain the post of Lucasian professor of mathematics. Now working on optics, he invented the reflecting telescope, which he presented to the Royal Society of which he became a fellow.   

In 1696, Newton was appointed Master of the Mint and was responsible for taking in the old currency and reissuing new coins, which would be difficult to shave or to counterfeit. He presided over the prosecution of several alleged counterfeiters including the notorious Chalenor who was hanged drawn and quartered for forgery.  One of Newton’s lesser-known inventions was the cat flap, which allowed his pets to move freely without disturbing his experiments.

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