Simon Newcomb (March 12, 1835 – July 11, 1909) was a Canadian-American astronomer, applied mathematician and autodidactic polymath. Though he had little conventional schooling, he made important contributions to timekeeping as well as other fields in applied mathematics such as economics and statistics in addition to authoring a science fiction novel.
Simon Newcomb was born in the town of Wallace, Nova Scotia. His parents were Emily Prince, the daughter of a New Brunswick magistrate, and itinerant school teacher John Burton Newcomb. John moved around teaching in different parts of Canada, particularly in different villages in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Emily was a daughter of Thomas Prince and Miriam Steeves, making Simon a great-great-grandson of Heinrich Stief, and a not-too-distant cousin of William Henry Steeves, a Canadian Father of Confederation.
Newcomb seems to have had little conventional schooling other than from his father and from a short apprenticeship to Dr. Foshay, a charlatan herbalist, in New Brunswick in 1851. Nevertheless, his father provided him with an excellent foundation for his future studies. Newcomb's apprenticeship with Dr. Foshay occurred when he was only 16. They entered an agreement that Newcomb would serve a five-year apprenticeship during which time Foshay would train him in using herbs to treat illnesses. For two years he was an apprentice but became increasingly unhappy and disillusioned with his apprenticeship and about Foshay's unscientific approach, realizing that the man was a charlatan. He made the decision to walk out on Foshay and break their agreement. He walked the 120 miles (190 km) to the port of Calais in Maine where he met the captain of a ship who agreed to take him to Salem, Massachusetts so that he could join his father. In about 1854, he joined his father in Salem (John Newcomb had moved earlier to the United States), and the two journeyed together to Maryland...
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