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Newton's Birthday Special: 10 Things You Didn't Know About Isaac Newton

10 Things You Didn't Know About Isaac Newton

Happy Birthday to Isaac Newton (sort of: skip to #5 for the scoop on that)! Although he's been a household name since his time, there's more to Isaac than meets the apple. Here are 10 facts you may not have known about Newton.
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 He really did not like his stepfather.

Newton was an avid list maker and one of his preserved lists included all of the sins he felt he had committed up until the age of 19 (his age at the time). One of them included, "Threatening my father and mother Smith to burne them and the house over them." You can't hardly blame the guy, though. When Smith proposed to Isaac's mother, Isaac wasn't part of the deal. The three-year-old Isaac was sent to live with his grandmother.

2. He wasn't expected to survive as a child.

He was born quite premature: an estimated 11 to 15 weeks early. His mother said he could fit in a quart-sized cup upon birth.

3. That apple thing? Never happened.

At least, not the way the legend goes. The story you probably know is that Mr. Newton was sitting under a tree contemplating life when an apple struck him on the head, simultaneously making a light bulb about gravity go off. The real story according to the man himself is that Newton was merely looking out the window when he happened to see the fruit drop. Even then, some Newton scholars think the story involving the apple was entirely made up.

4. He was a stutterer, but it puts him in good company.

Other people who habitually tripped over their tongues included Aristotle, Moses, Winston Churchill and Charles Darwin.

5. Despite being born on January 4, he was born on Christmas Day.

I know, confusing. At the time of his birth, the Gregorian calendar hadn't been adopted by England yet (it took them until 1752, and Newton was born in 1643). Records indicate that Isaac was born on Christmas and baptized on New Year's Day. When the Gregorian calendar was finally adopted by England, it needed adjusted by 11 days, making January 4 Isaac's recognized birthday.

6.Worried about the supposed apocalypse in 2012? Never fear: Newton spent a lot of time studying the subject.

In fact, he believed that God had chosen him specifically to interpret the Bible — and concluded that the world would end no sooner than 2060. "This I mention not to assert when the time of the end shall be," he explained, "but to put a stop to the rash conjectures of fanciful men who are frequently predicting the time of the end, and by doing so bring the sacred prophesies into discredit as often as their predictions fail."

7. He was a genius, to be sure, but not much of a politician.

In his year as a member of parliament, he spoke up only once — and that was to tell someone to close a window.

8. Think the Philosopher's Stone is just Harry Potter lore? Newton didn't.

OK, Newton didn't know about Harry Potter, but you know what I mean. A bunch of his papers were deemed "unfit to publish" upon his death in 1727 and remained so until 1936, when Sotheby's auction house acquired and sold most of them to economist John Maynard Keynes. These included the papers on the Philosopher's Stone (thought to turn lead into gold and possibly be an elixir of life) and his prediction about the end of the world.

9. His dog set his laboratory on fire, ruining 20 years of research.

At least, that's the story Newton told. Some historians believe that Newton never even owned a dog, hypothesizing that he left a window open and a gust of wind knocked over a lit candle. But the dog story lives on — it was recorded as early as 1833 in The Life of Sir Isaac Newton. When he saw what man's best friend had done, Newton is said to have exclaimed, "O Diamond, Diamond, thou little knowest the mischief thou hast done."

10. Late in life, Newton suffered a nervous breakdown and became known for rather eccentric behavior.

But it probably wasn't his fault. A 1979 examination of Newton's hair showed astronomical amounts of mercury, probably as a result of all of his alchemy experiments. Too much mercury can drive a man mad, of course, and that may have been exactly what it did to Isaac Newton. Then again, maybe not: the other side of the argument is that Newton never lost his hair (although he was gray by the age of 30 and attributed it to his studies with mercury) and never had bleeding gums, two very prominent symptoms of mercury poisoning.

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