7 Unknown Facts About Isaac Newton


Newton’s father, also named Isaac Newton, died a few months before young Isaac was born on December 25, 1642 (or January 4, 1643 New Style). When his mother, Hannah, gave birth, the baby was so tiny he wasn’t expected to survive. John Conduitt, who would later marry Newton’s niece, recounted Newton’s claim that “when he was born, he was so little they could put him into a quart pot.”


Like the story of Galileo and the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the story of Newton and the Apple has taken on legendary proportions. Lazing in the garden of his boyhood home, Newton saw an apple fall to the ground; in contemplating its fall, he also thought about the Moon moving in its orbit around the Earth, eventually deducing that the same force—gravity—was the cause of both. As he recalled later, he “began to think of gravity as extending to the orbit of the moon.” Historians suggest that the apple story, which Newton only told very late in life, should be taken with a grain of salt. And he never claimed it bonked him on the head.


In spite of his reclusiveness, Newton had his portrait painted more than a dozen times, especially in the final quarter of his life. As historian Mordechai Feingold wrote, “Only monarchs, and perhaps a few noblemen, surpassed Newton in the number of times they commissioned portraits of themselves.”

4. Isaac Newton’s Mother wanted him to be a Farmer

At the age of 16, Isaac Newton was ordered to quit school by his mother. She had lost her second husband and was back at her parents, Isaac was then a boarding student due to distance. She wanted him to go back to Wools Thorpe Manor to become a farmer, just like his father was. Through much convincing from his headmaster in Grantham, she let him return to school. Isaac later joined Trinity College, University of Cambridge in 1661, and that’s how he dodged the farming bullet.

5. The Black Death inadvertently set the stage for one of his most famous insights.

In 1665, following an outbreak of the bubonic plague in England, Cambridge University closed its doors, forcing Newton to return home to Wools Thorpe Manor. While sitting in the garden there one day, he saw an apple fall from a tree, providing him with the inspiration to eventually formulate his law of universal gravitation. Newton later relayed the apple story to William Stukeley, who included it in a book, “Memoir of Sir Isaac Newton’s Life,” published in 1752.

In 2010, a NASA astronaut carried a piece of the ancient apple tree aboard the space shuttle Atlantis for a mission to the International Space Station. The Royal Society, a scientific organization once headed by Newton, loaned the piece of the tree for the voyage, as part of a celebration of the 350th anniversary of the group’s founding. Today, the original apple tree continues to grow at Wools Thorpe Manor.

6. He had a serious interest in alchemy.

In addition to the scientific endeavors for which he’s best known, Newton spent much of his adult life pursuing another interest, alchemy, whose goals included finding the philosopher’s stone, a substance that allegedly could turn ordinary metals like lead and iron into gold. He was secretive about his alchemical experiments and recorded some of his research in code.

Among his other research projects, Newton analyzed the Bible in an attempt to find secret messages about how the universe works.

7. Newton was knighted.

In 1705, Newton was knighted by Queen Anne. By that time, he’d become wealthy after inheriting his mother’s property following her death in 1679 and also had published two major works, 1687’s “Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy” (commonly called the “Principia”) and 1704’s “Opticks.” After the celebrated scientist died at age 84 in March 1727, he was buried in Westminster Abbey, the resting place of English monarchs as well as such notable non-royals as Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens and explorer David Livingstone.