10 Interesting Facts About Mark Twain

A portrait of the American writer Mark Twain taken by A. F. Bradley in New York, 1907
Mark Twain, 1907.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Mark Twain is one of the most well-known authors in American history that contributed to many different genres. People of all ages have read his books, and his wit and humor are infamous. However, there are some things about Mark Twain that many people don’t know. This article will discuss ten interesting facts about this fantastic author!

Mark Twain’s Early Life

Portrait of Samuel Clemens as a young man holding a printer's composing stick with letters SAM.
Young Mark Twain, 1850.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Mark Twain was born on November 30, 1835, in the town of Florida, Missouri. He was born Samuel Clemens, and he was one of six children. When he was four years old, his family moved to Hannibal, Missouri, where he grew up. As a young boy, Twain worked as a printer’s apprentice and did various other jobs. His father, John Marshall Clemens, was a successful judge, but his mother, Jane Lampton Clemens, died when he was only 12 years old. This event profoundly affected Twain and shaped much of his writing.

Twain began his career as a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi River when he was only 18 years old. He gained a wealth of knowledge about the river and the people who lived along it, which would later be reflected in his writing. In 1862, he traveled to Nevada with his brother Orion, who had been appointed the Secretary of the Territory. It was during this time that he began using the pen name “Mark Twain,” which meant “two fathoms deep.”

Mark Twain Was Not Actually His Real Name

Colorized photograph of Mark Twain in the garden, c. 1900
Mark Twain, c. 1900.
Credit: Mads Madsen

Mark Twain’s real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens. Mark Twain didn’t start using his pen name until 1863. Before that, he went by a variety of aliases, including “Tom Sawyer,” “S.L. Clemens,” and “Josh.” This was because a riverboat captain named Mark Twain had been very popular at the time, and Clemens wanted to capitalize on that popularity.

Mark Twain’s First Published Work Was an Overnight Success

The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County 1st edition, 1867
The Celebrated Jumping Frog First Edition.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Twain’s first published work was an article called “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” It was published in 1865 and made him famous overnight. He published many other articles, stories, and books throughout his career. Some of his most famous works include The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.

Mark Twain’s Loss of Mother Had a Profound Effect on Him

When his mother, Jane Lampton Clemens, died when he was only 12 years old, it had a profound effect on Twain and shaped much of his writing. This event happened when Twain was already going through a lot of changes – he had just finished working as an apprentice printer and started working as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River. His mother’s death made Twain question many things about life, religion, and death.

After the death of his mother, Twain’s father married twice more and had seven more children. Twain did not get along with his stepmothers and often ran away from home. He eventually left school to work full-time and never returned to formal education. Despite this, Twain was a voracious reader and self-educated himself on various topics.

Mark Twain Tragically Lost His Wife and Daughter

Bust length portrait of a young woman, Olivia Langdon (1845-1904), at about 24 years-old. Opalotype; between ninth & sixteenth plate.
Wife of Mark Twain, Olivia Langdon Clemens, 1869.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Tragedy followed Mark Twain throughout his life. Twain was married to Olivia Langdon Clemens and had four children: Susy, Clara, Jean, and Samuel Clemens (who died at 19 months old). His wife and two of his daughters died within a few years of each other, which deeply affected Twain. Mark Twain’s wife and daughter both died from complications from diphtheria. This was a devastating event for Twain, and he later wrote about it in his book “Life on the Mississippi.”

Despite his success, Mark Twain was not immune to personal tragedy and hardships. However, he always managed to see the silver lining in every cloud and maintained his sense of humor through it all. This is one of the things that made him so loved and respected by so many people.

Tom Sawyer Was Based on Young Mark Twain

Frontispiece from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain (1st ed., 1876): [Tom Sawyer fishing]
Tom Sawyer.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Tom Sawyer is one of Mark Twain’s most famous characters. He is a young boy who enjoys pulling pranks and getting into mischief. He is also a very imaginative and resourceful child, which often comes in handy when trying to get out of trouble.

Tom Sawyer was based on young Mark Twain himself. Like Tom Sawyer, Twain was a mischievous and imaginative boy who loved to get into trouble. He also enjoyed telling stories and making people laugh.

Huckleberry Finn Was Based on Mark Twain’s Childhood Friend

Drawing of Huckleberry Finn with a rabbit and a gun, from the original 1884 edition of the book
Huckleberry Finn.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Huckleberry Finn is another one of Mark Twain’s most famous characters. He is a young boy who runs away from home and goes on adventures with his friend, Jim. Huckleberry Finn is known for being brave, resourceful, kind-hearted, and loyal.

Tom Blankenship was a real-life inspiration for one of Mark Twain’s characters. Blankenship was a boy who lived in Hannibal, Missouri, where Twain grew up. Twain often watched Blankenship play on the river and was inspired to create the character of Huckleberry Finn.

Mark Twain Dropped Out Of School

Mark Twain had a very limited education. He only attended school for three years before he had to support his family. He later taught himself how to read and write. Mark Twain would spend his free time at the library in the evenings, reading and educating himself. Quickly, he became one of the most well-read authors in America.

Mark Twain Was a Bad Businessman

 Mark Twain (penname of Samuel Langhorne Clemens) in the lab of Nikola Tesla, spring of 1894. Clemens is holding Tesla's experimental vacuum lamp, which is powered by a loop of wire which is receiving electromagnetic energy from a Tesla coil (not visible). Tesla's face is visible in the background.
Mark Twain in Nikola Tesla’s Lab, 1894.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Mark Twain was a great author – but not as great a businessman. Despite dabbling in many business investments, Twain’s investments were largely unsuccessful. He lost money in mining and technology ventures and even went bankrupt. However, he always managed to make a comeback with his writing.

Mark Twain Predicted His Own Death

Graves of Olivia Langdon Clemens and Mark Twain at Woodlawn Cemetery, Elmira New York
Graves of Olivia Langdon Clemens and Mark Twain.
Credit: Kenneth C. Zirkel // CC BY-SA 4.0,

In 1909, Mark Twain predicted that he would die in a year. He said that he would die when Halley’s Comet came back around. Unfortunately, he was right, and he passed away in 1910. Mark Twain’s death was a very tragic event. He had been diagnosed with a terminal illness, and despite his doctors’ efforts, he passed away shortly after. Twain’s family was by his side when he died and was buried in Elmira, New York. His cause of death is a mystery to this day. Some say that he died of a heart attack, while others believe he died of pneumonia.

Mark Twain’s words are still just as relevant today as they were in his time.  Even though we covered a lot of ground in this article, it’s just the tip of the iceberg regarding Twain and his life. Check out more Interesting Facts about other historical figures such as John F. Kennedy and Amelia Earhart!

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