Elihu Burritt (1810-1879), American philanthropist, known as "the learned blacksmith," was born in New Britain, Conn., on the 8th of December 1810. His father (a farmer and shoemaker), and his grandfather, both of the same name, had served in the Revolutionary army. An elder brother, Elijah, who afterwards published The Geography of the Heavens and other text-books, went out into the world while Elihu was still a boy, and after editing a paper in Georgia came back to New Britain and started a school. Elihu, however, had to pick up what knowledge he could get from books at home, where his father's long illness, ending in death, made his services necessary. At sixteen he was apprenticed to a blacksmith, and he made this his trade both there and at Worcester, Mass., where he removed in 1837. He had a passion for reading; from the village library he borrowed book after book, which he studied at his forge or in his spare hours; and he managed to find time for attending his brother's school for a while, and even for pursuing his search for culture among the advantages to be found at New Haven. He mastered Latin, Greek, French, Spanish, Italian and German, and by the age of thirty could read nearly fifty languages. His extraordinary aptitude gradually made him famous.
He took to lecturing, and then to an ardent crusade on behalf of universal peace and human brotherhood, which made him travel persistently to various parts of the United States and Europe. In 1848 he organized the Brussels congress of Friends of Peace, which was followed by annual congresses in Paris, Frankfort, London, Manchester and Edinburgh. He wrote and published voluminously, leaflets, pamphlets and volumes, and started the Christian Citizen at Worcester to advocate his humanitarian views. Cheap trans-oceanic postage was an ideal for which he agitated wherever he went. His vigorous philanthropy keeps the name of Elihu Burritt green in the history of the peace movement, apart from the fame of his learning. His countrymen, at universities such as Yale and elsewhere, delighted to do him honour; and he was U.S. consul at Birmingham from 1865 to 1870. He returned to America and died at New Britain on the 9th of March 1879.
See Life, by Charles Northend, in the memorial volume (1879); and an article by Ellen Strong Bartlett in the New England Magazine (June, 1897).