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David Rittenhouse

Born: 8-Apr-1732
Birthplace: Germantown, PA
Died: 26-Jun-1796
Location of death: Philadelphia, PA
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Buried, Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Gender: Male
Religion: Presbyterian
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Astronomer, Mathematician, Government

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Early Pennsylvania scientist and statesman

David Rittenhouse is often cited as America's second foremost scientist of the 18th century, behind only Benjamin Franklin. Almost entirely self-taught, he studied books inherited from his uncle, a furniture maker, and used his uncle's tools to construct clocks as a teenager. He soon had a successful business building mathematical and astronomical instruments, and also worked as a surveyor. He designed and built orreries (apparatus for modeling the positions and movements of the planets), constructed his own observatory at his father's farm, and in 1768 used a telescope of his own design to note that Venus has an atmosphere. He also wrote respected papers on mathematics, experimented with magnetism and electricity, and in 1763 surveyed the Pennsylvania-Maryland border using his own hand-made instruments.

During the American Revolution he served in the Pennsylvania Assembly, and chaired the Council of Safety, which had de facto control of the colony's government during the drafting of the Pennsylvania's Constitution. He oversaw manufacture of weapons for Pennsylvania's colonial rebels, gathering lead weights from Philadelphia's clocks and machinery and substituting iron weights, diverting the lead to use for musket shot. In the newfound nation of America he was appointed by George Washington as the first director of the US Mint, and hand-struck the nation's first coins. He is the namesake of Philadelphia's Rittenhouse Square. His nephew, William Barton, was co-designer of the Great Seal of the United States.

Father: Matthias Rittenhouse (farmer)
Mother: Elizabeth Williams Rittenhouse (farmer)
Sister: Anne Rittenhouse
Sister: Eleanor Rittenhouse
Sister: Esther Rittenhouse Barton
Brother: Nicholas Rittenhouse
Wife: Eleanor Coulston Rittenhouse (m. 1766, d. 1770 childbirth, two daughters)
Daughter: Elizabeth Rittenhouse Sergeant
Daughter: Susan Rittenhouse Bechtel Hunsicker
Wife: Hannah Jacobs Rittenhouse (m. 1772, one child)

    Professor: Astronomy, University of Pennsylvania (1779-82)
    Administrator: Vice Provost, University of Pennsylvania (1780-82)
    Administrator: Trustee, University of Pennsylvania (1779-80, 1782-96)

    American Philosophical Society President (1791-96)
    American Academy of Arts and Sciences
    Royal Society
    US Official Director of the US Mint (1792-95)
    Pennsylvania State Official State Treasurer (1777-89)
    Pennsylvania State House of Representatives (1776)
    Pennsylvania State Official Chairman of Council of Safety (thrice in 1776)
    Pennsylvania State Official City Surveyor, Philadelphia (1774-75)
    Lunar Crater Rittenhouse (74.5 S, 106.5 E)
    German Ancestry


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