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Cabot Community History Project - CABOT'S WONDER BOY, ZERAH COLBURN, 1804-1839


Cabot's project explored the amazing life of a native son whose skill at calculations astounded the world. He had demonstrated his abilities from Boston to Paris before he reached the ripe old age of twelve.

At age six, Zerah was asked the following questions at Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire. He answered each question correctly within seconds and did not make any notations. He did not learn to read or write until age twelve while in England.

"How many seconds in 2,000 years?" "730,000 days, 1,051,200,000 minutes, 63,072,000,000 seconds."

"Allowing that a clock strikes 15 times in one day, how many times will it strike in 2,000 years?" "113,880,000."

"What is 1449 times itself?" "2,099,001."

"Supposing I have a cornfield in which are 7 acres having 17 rows to each acre, 64 hills to each row, 8 ears on a hill, and 150 kernals on an ear; how many kernels are in the cornfield?" "9,139,200."

In London a meeting of friends was held to raise funds for Zerah's education and the boy gave an exhibition of his talents. "The Duke of Cambridge asked the number of seconds which had elapsed since the commencement of the Christian Era (1813 years, 7 months, and 29 days), and the child replied soon after correctly: "57,234,384,000." He raised the number 8 to the sixteenth power, giving the right answer, 281,474,976,710,656. He raised other numbers of one figure to the tenth power faster than a transcriber could write down his figures; he gave the square or cube root of a number with the same facility. For example, some one asked for the cube root of 28,330,125, and he answered promptly, 645. Another asked him to name the factors that produced the number 247,483, and at once he replied: 941 and 263, which are the only two factors that will produce that number. When asked to give the factors of 36,083, he immediately replied that it had none, which is true, for 36,083 is a prime number.