Mark Twain receives steamboat pilot’s license - HISTORY
Year
1859

Mark Twain receives steamboat pilot’s license

On this day in 1859, a 23-year-old Missouri youth named Samuel Langhorne Clemens receives his steamboat pilot’s license.

Clemens had signed on as a pilot’s apprentice in 1857 while on his way to Mississippi. He had been commissioned to write a series of comic travel letters for the Keokuk Daily Post, but after writing five, decided he’d rather be a pilot than a writer. He piloted his own boats for two years, until the Civil War halted steamboat traffic. During his time as a pilot, he picked up the term “Mark Twain,” a boatman’s call noting that the river was only two fathoms deep, the minimum depth for safe navigation. When Clemens returned to writing in 1861, working for the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise, he wrote a humorous travel letter signed by “Mark Twain” and continued to use the pseudonym for nearly 50 years.

Clemens was born in Hannibal, Missouri, and was apprenticed to a printer at age 13. He later worked for his older brother, who established the Hannibal Journal. In 1864, he moved to San Francisco to work as a reporter. There he wrote the story that made him famous, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.

In 1866, he traveled to Hawaii as a correspondent for the Sacramento Union. Next, he traveled the world writing accounts for papers in California and New York, which he later published as the popular book The Innocents Abroad (1869). In 1870, Clemens married the daughter of a wealthy New York coal merchant and settled in Hartford, Connecticut, where he continued to write travel accounts and lecture. In 1875, his novel Tom Sawyer was published, followed by Life on the Mississippi (1883) and his masterpiece Huckleberry Finn (1885). Bad investments left Clemens bankrupt after the publication of Huckleberry Finn, but he won back his financial standing with his next three books. In 1903, he and his family moved to Italy, where his wife died. Her death left him sad and bitter, and his work, while still humorous, grew distinctly darker. He died in 1910.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Germany invades Norway

During World War II, Nazi Germany invades neutral Norway, surprising the Norwegian and British defenders of the country and capturing several strategic points along the Norwegian coast. During the invasion’s preliminary phase, Norwegian Fascists under Vidkun Quisling acted as a ...read more

First astronauts introduced

On April 9, 1959, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) introduces America’s first astronauts to the press: Scott Carpenter, L. Gordon Cooper Jr., John H. Glenn Jr., Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Walter Schirra Jr., Alan Shepard Jr., and Donald Slayton. The seven men, ...read more

Robert E. Lee surrenders

At Appomattox, Virginia, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrenders his 28,000 troops to Union General Ulysses S. Grant, effectively ending the American Civil War. Forced to abandon the Confederate capital of Richmond, blocked from joining the surviving Confederate force in ...read more

“Chicago Eight” plead not guilty

The Chicago Eight, indicted on federal charges of conspiracy to incite a riot at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, plead not guilty. The trial for the eight antiwar activists had begun in Chicago on March 20. The defendants included David Dellinger of the National ...read more

Gervin beats Thompson in NBA scoring title duel

On April 9, 1978, the San Antonio Spurs’ George Gervin scores 63 points in his final game of the regular season to edge out the Denver Nuggets’ David Thompson in one of the tightest contests for the NBA scoring crown in basketball history. Gervin went on to become the league’s ...read more

Billy the Kid convicted of murder

After a one-day trial, Billy the Kid is found guilty of murdering the Lincoln County, New Mexico, sheriff and is sentenced to hang.There is no doubt that Billy the Kid did indeed shoot the sheriff, though he had done so in the context of the bloody Lincoln County War, a battle ...read more

Tornado reduces Oklahoma town to rubble

The town of Woodward, Oklahoma, is nearly wiped off the map by a powerful tornado on this day in 1947. More than 100 people died in Woodward, and 80 more lost their lives elsewhere in the series of twisters that hit the U.S. heartland that day.The storm occurred when a cold ...read more

A husband attempts murder for money in England

Margaret Backhouse turns the ignition of her husband’s car, setting off a pipe bomb filled with nitroglycerine and shotgun pellets in the small farming community of Horton, England. Hundreds of pellets lacerated her body and practically tore away her legs, but she was relatively ...read more

George Shultz condemns Soviet spying

Just days before he is to travel to Moscow for talks on arms control and other issues, U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz states that he is “damned angry” about possible Soviet spy activity in the American embassy in the Soviet Union. Soviet officials indignantly replied that ...read more

Confederate General Lee surrenders

Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrenders his army to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia.For more than a week, Lee had tried to outrun Grant to the west of Richmond and Petersburg in Virginia. After a ten-month siege of the two cities, the Union ...read more

Honda wins World Green Car award

On this day in 2009, the Honda FCX Clarity, a four-door sedan billed as the planet’s first hydrogen-powered fuel-cell vehicle intended for mass production, wins the World Green Car award at the New York Auto Show.The first FCX Clarity cars came off the assembly line at a Honda ...read more

U.S. surrenders in Bataan

On this day in 1942, Major General Edward P. King Jr. surrenders at Bataan, Philippines–against General Douglas MacArthur’s orders–and 78,000 troops (66,000 Filipinos and 12,000 Americans), the largest contingent of U.S. soldiers ever to surrender, are taken captive by the ...read more