Mark Twain

Born: 1835

Birthplace: Missouri

Died: 1910

Mark Twain is the pseudonym for writer Samuel Clemens. He is a noted adventurer and writer in America that conveyed wit, humor, and moral lessons in his works.

The most well-known of his many novels include “Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” His books told many stories of life during the mid-1800s and dealt with many of the problems of the day.

Beyond being a novelist, Twain was also a lecturer, entrepreneur, inventor, riverboat pilot, and journalist.

  • Twain was born with the name Samuel Langhorne Clemens. His family, which included six children, relocated to the larger town of Hannibal when he was four years old. His father was a stern individual who had many jobs, but the family was always somewhat poor. It was his mother that was fun-loving and enjoyed telling stories to her family. When his father died unexpectedly, their family became almost destitute. This condition would be the basis for Twain’s beliefs and attitudes for his entire life.
  • Hannibal, Missouri, was on the Mississippi River and had steamboats arriving every day. While it was a center of activity and trade, it was also a place of violence, and Twain was exposed to more than a young child should have seen.
  • Twain had an education until he was 12 years old and had to quit school when his father died so that he could help out with income for the family. He was taken on as a printer’s apprentice at the “Hannibal Courier,” and then when he was 15, he got a job at the “Hannibal Western Union” newspaper as a printer and writer.
  • When he was 21, Twain started learning how to be a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi. By 1859 he was licensed and employed on a steamboat. Although he loved his job, the Civil War stopped almost all traffic on the river that wasn’t military. During the Civil War, half of the State of Missouri was Confederate, and a half was for the Union. Twain joined the Confederate Army but only served for a few weeks when his unit fell apart.
  • Twain headed to the west coast in 1861, and for the next five years, he lived in California and Nevada. During his time there, he was a prospector for both gold and silver but never made any money. He was hired as a reporter for the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise and began writing news, sketching, and doing editorials under the name of Mark Twain. He chose the name because it is slang in the steamboat world for “12 feet of water.”
  • It was during this time that Twain earned his credit for being one of the west’s best writers. He developed a funny, friendly, and satirical method of writing. In 1865, he wrote a story about mining camp life called “Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog” that was printed all around the country in both magazines and newspapers. This was his big break, and by 1867 he was experiencing success as a writer.
  • Twain took a cruise on the Mediterranean that lasted five months and wrote humorous stories for American newspapers. He published all of the stories in 1869 in “The Innocents Abroad,” and it was a bestseller around the country. He was only 34 years old, and he was considered to be one of the most famous and popular writers in the U.S.
  • Being a Westerner was looked down on during those days, and his desire to get rich and help his family needed a boost and approval from the establishment in the East. His marriage to Olivia Langdon did just that. Her father was a rich New Yorker who made his money as a coal merchant. They settled down in Buffalo and later had four children.
  • Twain retained his humorous attitude and eventually wrote a series of successful books, including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Life on the Mississippi, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and other short stories. He said that writing these allowed him to escape the “inhibitions of the culture he had chosen to embrace.”
  • Twain was given honorary degrees from Yale and Oxford and was photographed and praised wherever he went. He was considered to be one of the most noted celebrities in the world and traveled on a lecture tour.
  • Things changed when his wife died, and he started feeling a bit bitter. His temper exploded in rages, and he began experiencing memory losses. He died in Elmira, New York, on April 21, 1910, at the age of 74. His many books continue to be those read by old and young alike.


What was Mark Twain’s birth name?
Samuel Clemens

What professions did Mark Twain achieve in his life?
Novelist, lecturer, entrepreneur, inventor, riverboat pilot, and journalist

What river influenced many of the books that Twain wrote?
Mississippi River

What does Mark Twain mean in riverboat slang?
12 feet of water

What was the topic of the first story that brought Twain nationwide fame?
Life in a mining camp

At what age did Mark Twain receive U.S. celebrity?

What book title gave Mark Twain international fame?
The Innocents Abroad