Mark Twain was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens in 1835 in Florida, Missouri. He spent much of his childhood in Hannibal, Missouri, a town located on the Mississippi River. He never finished school and instead became a printer’s apprentice at the age of twelve. In the 1850s he worked as a riverboat pilot and later briefly served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. During this time he submitted his first journalism pieces, using the pseudonym Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass. He then traveled west and found work as a miner and a reporter. It was at this time that he first began to publish work under the name Mark Twain and to establish himself as a sketch-writer and humorist. “Mark Twain” was a reference to his riverboat days; it was a term that the men who worked on the boats used to indicate the depth of the water.
Twain’s first sketch to win widespread acclaim was the short story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” which debuted in the New York Saturday Press in 1865. It later appeared as the title story in his first collection, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, and Other Sketches, in 1867. After this book was published Twain began traveling abroad and often sent his satirical and humorous observations home for publication in American journals. Many of these pieces were collected and published in 1869 as The Innocents Abroad; or, The New Pilgrim’s Progress. Twain also wrote pieces for the Sacramento Union newspaper, often employing the letter-writing and reporting techniques he had used in “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.”
Incorporating memories of his boyhood and life on the Mississippi River, Twain published his children’s book The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in 1876. The sequel to this classic of American boyhood, the critically acclaimed and equally popular The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, was published in 1884. Like much of Twain’s work, Huckleberry Finn made use of vernacular language and dialect and emphasized the inherent injustice of American society. In the late 1800s Twain suffered various financial and personal losses, and his satirical wit and often pessimistic outlook became overwhelmingly apparent in such classics as A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889), Pudd’n-head Wilson (1894), and “The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg” (1899). When Twain died in Redding, Connecticut, in 1910, he was-as he continues to be-revered as one of the greatest and most popular authors in American literature.