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Child Prodigies Through History

Updated on April 9, 2009

Child prodigies have long excited the world. They can do amazing things and often contribute wonderful things to their field of study. Some have names that will be remembered for generations to come, while others excite us with their interesting lives for brief moments and then fade into the fabric of the world. However, it doesn't change the fact that these wonderful children have lived lives and added value to the world they live in.

What is a Prodigy?

A prodigy is defined as someone who under 10 and performing at the level of a highly trained adult in a very demanding field of endeavor. Often times prodigies are easiest to identify in quantitative fields such as mathematics or science. However, there have been many prodigies throughout the ages in a wide range of fields. The arts have lent us a lot of famous and unforgettable prodigies as well.

Most child prodigies are gifted in one particular area. While they have high IQ's and often have a basic or proficient understanding of many things, they excell in a small area of expertise. This often includes something like "art", "painting", "writing", "mathematics and sciences", or "music". While they may branch out a bit or become very specialized it is unusual to find a prodigy who is very gifted across the board.

The Unforgetable

There are a number of names that most of us can't forget. Not all of us know about their childhood achievements, but they are none the less unforgettable.

  • Shirley Temple- It is certain that we won't be forgetting Shirley Temple anytime soon and we know about her childhood achievements, at least some of them. She was announced as a child prodigy in Time back in 1936. She showed great talent at age 5 and one an Academy Award at age 7.
  • Pablo Picasso- Picasso is a name most of us know from one art class or another. This is largely because he influenced the world of art so much that you can't study it and not come across his name. What some people don't know is that he started painting adult like pictures between the ages of 3-5. Some of his most famous paintings also come from his childhood!
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart- Most of us have heard Mozart's name somewhere. What some don't know is that he started playing the piano and was very accomplished by the age of three. By age five he played the piano and violin in front of royalty. He also began composing around the age of seven.
  • Bobby Fischer- Fischer is probably more famous for disappearing from public eye then what he actually accomplished. However he was a chess wiz back in the 50's. In 1958 he became the youngest grandmaster (at the time). He was 15 years, 4 months, and 28 days old. 
  • H.P. Lovecraft- Lovecraft is one that you may or may not have heard of before. However, he was able to recite poetry at 2, wrote long poems at 5, though he didn't become published until he was 24 because he lived the life of a hermit. He mostly produced horror and "weird" fiction.


There are less famous prodigies or other prodigies that you may or may not have heard of. With lots of amazing kids out there it is hard to know where to take it all.

  • Blaise Pascal- Some of you may or may not remember hearing Pascal's name at some point in your mathematical teaching. He is most famous for Pascal's theorem, though he made many contributions to mathematics.
  • William James Sidis- Some think that Sidis was the man with the highest IQ. It is estimated that he had an IQ around 250-300 (to be a genius you only need to score 136). He learned to read by 18 months, wrote 4 books and knew 8 languages by 7, gave a lecture at Harvard at 9, and entered Harvard for study at 11. He was gifted in the fields of mathematics and cosmology.
  • Maria Agnesi- One of the few women who managed to leave an imprint on the mathematical world she lived from 1718-1799. While her accomplishments often start being listed at a much later age then her counterparts this had a major thing to do with the lack of education provided to women. However, by age 9 she translated speeches into Latin for fun. Her greatest accomplishment was a highly influential mathematics manual. While not developed until she was 30, this 2 volume manual included cutting edge developments such as integral and differential calculus.
  • Felix Mendelssohn- This composer is fairly well known and even if you don't know his name you will know his most famous work. Mendelssohn began to play the piano at 6, did public performances at 11, completed his Overture to "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at 17. He is most well known for composing his "Wedding March" which is still used at most traditional wedding ceremonies years later. (He is of course not responsible for any of the many variations of "Here comes the bride" lyrics that may go to the music).

Mental Calculators

A mental calculator is one that can do mathematical problems in their head. Often this includes adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing, and doing the square root of very large numbers. They are very accurate and often hold numbers to several places. However, not all of them are proficient in mathematics and many are not technically classified as prodigies. Some prodigies proficient in mathematics or science are also mental calculators.

More Recent

Of course, all of the prodigies listed here are from years gone by. This doesn't mean prodigies don't exist anymore. Many of them have brief fames and fortunes and are in the headlines or on talk shows such as "Oprah" for a brief moment in time. Here are a few of the more recent prodigies.

  • Anna Luhrmann (1983)- Anna showed an amazing proficiency with politics at an early age and began working with the Green Party in Germany. She was elected the youngest parliament member at the age of 19.
  • Michael Kearney (1984)- Michael had one amazing start beginning to talk at four months and saying complete sentences by six months (including telling the doctor that he had an inner ear infection). He finished high school by age five and entered college at age 6.
  • Alexandra Nechita (1985)- Alexandra is a painter who started working with art at the age of two. She started with ink and paper, but was working with water colors by five. She worked with oils and acrylics by age five and had her first solo exhibition at age eight.
  • Tathagat Avatar Tulsi (1987)- Avatar Tulsi was first seen as a mental calculator at the age of six. However he excelled beyond mental calculations and completed high school at 9, gained a Bachelor's of science at 10, and finished is Masters of science at the age of 12. He now works as a scientist working in quantum algorithms.
  • Gregory R. Smith (1989)- Greg went through the second grade to the eighth grade including an Algebra I class at age 7. Then he completed high school in 22 months. He entered college at 10 and graduated with a masters at 16. He continues to go to school and has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize four times.
  • Alia Sabur (1989)- Alia began reading at eight months and went from fourth grade to college. She graduated from Stoney Brooke University at fourteen. She had a Bachelor's of science in applied mathematics as the summa cum laude. She is now the youngest full-time faculty professor.
  • Mattie Stepanek (1990)- Mattie was an exceptional boy. He wrote a wide variety of inspirational poetry and spoke out about peace all over the nation. He even met with former president Jimmy Carter. He did all of this while dealing with Dysautonomic Mitochondrial Myopathy which shuts down normal body functions. He passed away just before his 14th birthday leaving behind a lot of inspiration.
  • Sho Yano (1990)- Sho got a 1500 out of 1600 on the SAT's at age eight and entered college at nine. He graduated at 12 and currently is studying medicine.
  • Akiane Kramarik (1994)- This young girl writes poetry and paints with a beauty far beyond her years. Her paintings and poetry have been sold for thousands of dollars. She began drawing at age 4 and painting at 6. This self-taught master of painting produces beautiful images!
  • Akrit Jaiswal (1994)- This master of his art Akrit first drew attention to himself after footage of him operating on an 8 year old girl in his village made headlines around the world. He was seven at the time. While this young surgeon hadn't gone to medical school he had read everything he could on the subject and was often invited to watch surgeries. At age 11 he was the youngest ever to be accepted to an Indian university. Now around 14, he is dedicated to finding a cure for cancer.

Sports and Games

In addition to your children gifted in the arts, sciences, and knowledge there are also a number of children gifted in sports and games. We mentioned Bobby Fischer earlier who was a young grandmaster in the game of chess. There are numerous other child prodigies in the realm of chess and sports. One well known one is Tiger Woods who excelled at the game of golf early on. More recent times have brought LeBron James (1984) who excels in basketball, Wayne Rooney (1985) who excels at soccer, and Shaun White who became a professional snowboarder at 13, just to name a few!

Child prodigies often fascinate us. We love to hear about what young children did and when they did it, even if it does make us feel a little behind. However, it should be noted that many child prodigies grow up to lead fairly normal adult lives, with regular jobs, and few amazing accomplishments. And that is if they are lucky. There are also a number that turn to drugs and alcohol, and many end up with lives that are sad and unfulfilled. It could very well be the pushing that some parents do or the lack of direction. Whatever it is, it should be considered carefully as we awe what these kids can do.


Submit a Comment
  • profile image


    11 years ago

    How interesting. Some sound like they wer very lonely from what history has documented on them. Sad, but I am glad for their accomplishments. Their work is appreciated very much. Thank you for writing this.

  • helenathegreat profile image


    12 years ago from Manhattan

    Wow, most of those in the last list are younger than I am and have already accomplished so much! Amazing. Great hub!

  • aidenofthetower profile imageAUTHOR


    12 years ago

    It would be a huge undertaking especially since I had to pick and choose which ones I talked about just to make this hub short enough! Some would be easy. There is tons of information about many of the famous ones. Others would be harder because there isn't much information about them. Some of them have only had an interview or two from which all known knowledge comes from and knowing what happens when they grow up (for those that have) is often even harder to find. However, they are facsinating.

  • Rochelle Frank profile image

    Rochelle Frank 

    12 years ago from California Gold Country

    Very interesting list. I find myself wanting to know more about all of them. (Could you pleaase write a hub on each?)

    Just kidding, sort of, as it would be a huge undertaking.


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