Exceptional American Children from History
Long before achieving fame and fortune as inventors of the airplane, ten-year old Wilbur Wright, purchased a lathe and other woodworking tools and with the help of his six-year-old brother Orville built a fancy Queen Anne style, wrap-around porch onto their parents’ house. They were so successful that they were hired by a number of neighbors to build porches onto their homes; this at the age of ten and six. We won’t even let our young people use knives, let alone start changing the appearance of our homes.
Arthur Davidson of Harley-Davidson fame, was also a very industrious young man. At the age of ten he had set up tanks of chemicals and electrical equipment in his parents’ basement and started a chrome plating business. Talk about initiative, knowledge and responsibility. He would never have accomplished this had he been born in our age. We would never let him play around with electricity and dangerous chemicals and he probably wouldn’t have been interested anyhow – much easier to hit the ‘on’ button on some entertainment device.
David Farragut (1801-1870), a famous civil war admiral in the Union Navy, responsible for the quote, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead,” had a very extraordinary childhood. He went to sea at eight and not on a private vessel, but a U.S. Navy war ship. He was commissioned as a naval officer at the age of nine and a half. The War of 1812 broke out a couple of years later and David’s ship passed under the horn, a treacherous passage between the tip of South America and Antarctica, in pursuit of British ships. The Americans captured several British whaling ships, and Farragut was given command of one of these British ships and orders to sail it back under the horn and up to New England. At one point in the trip, the captured British captain, not appreciating taking orders from a twelve-year-old, threaten mutiny. Farragut promptly drew both of pistols and sent the man back to his cabin for the rest of the trip. Do you think his mom made him wear a life jacket?
John Quincy Adams, who was almost entirely self-educated, was at the age of fourteen appointed by Congress as diplomatic secretary to the commissioner [ambassador] to the court of Catherine the Great in Russia. When his term was up, he traveled solo from St. Petersburg to Paris in the dead of winter, an amazing feat by itself, let alone at age fifteen. Then on the trip back to America, Adams stopped in Stockholm to make trade arrangements with Sweden on behalf of the US. Most of us wouldn’t even trust our fifteen year olds to do their own back-to-school shopping.
What is the difference between those children in the 18th and 19th century and the present? Admittedly these children mentioned above were exceptional children, but what are the exceptional children of the 21st century doing? What was going on in early America that created such remarkable young people? Any thoughts? Please comment below. We’ll be posting a number of observations from history that might give us a game plan for the future.