Mark Twain, who was born with the name Samuel Langhorne Clemens, was an author who wrote the well known American classics, Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer. Those two classics are just a small part of the life and times of Mark Twain!
Samuel Clemens was born on November 30, 1835, in Missouri. He was one of seven children born to John and Jane Clemens. Three of his siblings died when they were children, which left Samuel, his brothers Orion and Henry and a sister named Pamela. Samuel was premature and not expected to live and was a sickly child until he turned seven. When Samuel was four, the Clemens family moved to a port town on the Mississippi River, Hannibal, Missouri. Twain was always drawn to the water, although he did not know how to swim. He claimed to have been saved from drowning nine times! The patriarch of the Clemens family died of pneumonia when Twain was eleven years old. This left the family without income and Twain dropped out of school. He apprenticed as a printer and went on to work as a printer in different cities. His real interest lied in being a steamboat pilot. He studied and began piloting. It was piloting steamboats that gave Clemens his pen name of Mark Twain. The pilots used the word “twain” instead of two. They would call out, “by the mark twain!”, which indicated the river depth was two fathoms, a depth safe for steamboats.
Mark Twain continued to work as a steamboat pilot until the beginning of the Civil War in 1861. Twain enlisted as a Confederate soldier, however, his time with the Confederacy was short-lived, about two weeks. He then went on to become a miner in Nevada. His get rich quick efforts failed and he then went to work at a Virginia City newspaper called Territorial Enterprise. While writing for this newspaper he first used his famous name, Mark Twain.
The short story, Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog, was Mark Twain’s first big hit as a writer. He had been sitting at a bar in California when he overheard a tale about a jumping frog contest. When he was asked to write a short story, he based it on that yarn he had heard. The piece was sent into The New York Saturday Press and it appeared in its November 18, 1865 edition.
While on a trip to the Mediterranean, he met Charles Langdon. Langdon had shown Twain a photo of his sister, Olivia. Twain always said he fell in love at first sight. Olivia and Mark began writing to each other and subsequently got engaged. They were married in 1870 in New York. They were married for thirty-four years. They had four kids, Langdon, Susy, Clara, and Jean. Their only son died of diphtheria when he was only nineteen months old. Olivia passed away in 1904.
Mark Twain was always interested in science. Twain actually patented three inventions during his life. The first was an elastic strap for pants. It did not sell well, however, this invention went on to help create the first bra strap! He also developed a history trivia game. This also had a tough time selling. His one successful invention was a self-pasting scrapbook, which sold over 25,000 units.
Mark Twain earned a lot of money from his writing, but he was a lousy investor. Due to his passion for science and technology, he invested much of his money in new advancements. He also attempted to start his own publishing house, however, that failed as well. In order to recoup some of his money and repay his debts, he went on a year-long lecture tour. His form of lectures was akin to today's stand up comedy shows. He was very popular and took on controversial topics. Mark Twain died of a heart attack on April 21, 1910. He had been living in Connecticut. He had predicted he would die with the passing of Haley’s Comet. He died the day after the comet had its closest brush with Earth.