Special Report

31 Famous Child Prodigies

Hannes Magerstaedt / Getty Images

A prodigy is a child younger than 10 years old who shows astounding proficiency in one or more artistic or academic fields. These remarkable youngsters have inspired wonder and awe. And at certain times in our history they did not receive the respect they deserved. 

24/7 Tempo has compiled a list of 31 famous child prodigies, reviewing material from encyclopedic sources such as britannica.com and history.com, magazines including smithsonian.com, and the personal websites of the prodigies profiled.

Click here to see 31 famous child prodigies
Click here to read our methodology

Most of the time, these precocious children exhibit their talent in areas such as mathematics, art, science, chess, or music. They demonstrate remarkable memory, are laser-focused on detail, and are obsessed with their talent, spending hours figuring out math problems or practicing a musical instrument. Experts have noted that these children have higher IQs as well as higher rates of altruism than the population as a whole.

Joanne Ruthsatz, an assistant professor of psychology at Ohio State University, noted in her research on prodigies that they use their gifts to help society. “They have this advanced moral development,” said Ruthsatz on the Ohio State University website.

Many prodigies come from affluent or middle-class backgrounds and had parents who were in similar fields. Many of these parents encouraged, and even promoted, their child’s outsized abilities. Newspapers stoked the prodigy fad in the 1920s and did human-interest stories on the children, with some stories treating the youngsters as little more than nature’s anomalies.

For many prodigies, life didn’t turn out as they might have hoped. Bobby Fischer became the first American to win the world chess championship, but his life deteriorated into mental anguish afterward. For other prodigies such as physicist Marie Curie, her research in radioactivity led to a Nobel Prize. Here are the most influential women in science.

Methodology

To compile a list of famous child prodigies, 24/7 Tempo reviewed multiple online encyclopedias such as Britannica and historic journals such as the Smithsonian Magazine. The initial list included nearly 50 extremely gifted children, dating back to the 17th century. We applied editorial discretion to choose people from various countries. We included prodigies whose talents varied from science and chess to music and literature.

Source: Courtesy of Ministère de la Culture Plateforme / Wikimedia Commons

1. Blaise Pascal (1623 – 1662)
> Country of origin: France
> Talent: Mathematician

Blaise Pascal, a mathematics prodigy from France, came from a math background — his father was a tax collector and mathematician. When he was 12, the young Pascal figured out that the inside angles of a triangle always add up to the total of two right angles (180 degrees). Three years later, the 15-year-old Pascal wrote an original mathematical work titled “Essay on Conic Sections.”

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Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

2. Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1648 – 1695)
> Country of origin: Mexico
> Talent: Writer, poet

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, who was born in what is now Mexico, demonstrated extraordinary intellectual capacity at a young age, learning to read at age 3. Limited by gender and her parents’ financial situation from getting an education, Juana went to live with her maternal grandparents in Mexico City. She was a fixture at the city’s library and learned Latin quickly, wrote poetry at 8, and dazzled professors with her intellect. She eventually joined a convent and wrote poems and plays.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

3. Maria Agnesi (1718 – 1799)
> Country of origin: Itay
> Talent: Mathematician

Maria Agnesi, born to a mathematics professor who taught at the University of Bologna, displayed a gift for learning languages as a youth. By the time she was 11, Agnesi could speak Latin, German, Greek, Hebrew, and Spanish to go along with Italian and French, which she already knew. Agnesi was also very proficient in geometry and ballistics. While still a teenager, she discussed topics in various fields with intellectuals that her father brought to their home.

4. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1797)
> Country of origin: Austria
> Talent: Composer

The genius of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, composer of such works as “Don Giovanni,” “The Marriage of Figaro,” and “The Magic Flute,” is well documented but no less astonishing. He started playing the piano when he was 3 years old, the violin at 4, and wowed the Austrian royal family with his piano-playing prowess as a 6-year-old. Mozart composed his first symphony at age 9 and penned his first operas while traveling through Italy at age 14.

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Source: Courtesy of Musée du Louvre / Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

5. Jean-Francois Champollion (1790 – 1832)
> Country of origin: France
> Talent: Philologist

You might remember the name Jean-Francois Champollion as one of the people who helped decipher the Rosetta Stone, the massive stone tablet inscribed in hieroglyphics, Demotic (the language of everyday Egyptians), and ancient Greek. What you may not know is that the renowned philologist was a precocious child who learned Latin, Greek, Arabic, Sanskrit, and other languages by the time he was a teenager.

Source: Courtesy of London Stereoscopic Company / Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

6. John Stuart Mill (1806 – 1873)
> Country of origin: United Kingdom
> Talent: Philosopher

Philosopher and economist John Stuart Mill, an ardent believer in the equality of races and genders, was a child prodigy. MIll’s father, a Scottish writer, pushed him hard when he was a boy. The younger Mill read the classics, including Plato’s works in their original Greek language, as well as learned history, physics, and economics.

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Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

7. Clara Schumann (1819 – 1896)
> Country of origin: Germany
> Talent: Pianist

Clara Schumann, born Clara Wieck, was a pianist, who started learning to play the piano by age 5 and began composing by age 10. She became a celebrated piano prodigy and toured Europe, earning praise from such music stalwarts as Franz Liszt and Frédéric Chopin. Schumann performed professionally for more than 60 years.

Source: Courtesy of Musée Arthur Rimbaud / Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

8. Arthur Rimbaud (1854 – 1891)
> Country of origin: France
> Talent: Poet

The literary wunderkind and adventurer Arthur Rimbaud, was well versed in Latin at an early age. He published his first poem at age 15 and later wrote prose such as “A Season in Hell” that was influential in launching the surrealist movement. His poem “The Drunken Boat,” a metaphor about someone freed from convention, is considered to be his finest work. Rimbaud influenced artists such as beat writer Jack Kerouac and folk-rock singer Bob Dylan.

Source: tonynetone / Flickr

9. Marie Curie (1867 – 1934)
> Country of origin: Poland
> Talent: Physicist

Few people have had a more storied scientific career than Marie Curie, who won Nobel prizes in physics and chemistry and was the first female professor at the Sorbonne. Not surprisingly, she was a prodigy in literature and mathematics and taught herself to read Russian and French. She was encouraged to pursue her intellectual curiosity by her father, a science teacher. As a teen, she was educated in physics and natural history at a school that was kept secret from Poland’s Russian rulers in the late 19th century.

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Source: Courtesy of RMN-Grand Palais / Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

10. Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973)
> Country of origin: Spain
> Talent: Painter

One of art’s giants of the 20th century who helped found the cubism movement, Pablo Picasso was encouraged to paint by his father, a teacher and artist himself. He held his first public art exhibit at age 11. Two years later, in a gesture that recognized his son’s genius, Picasso’s father stopped painting for good. Picasso took the competitive entrance exam at Provincial School of Fine Arts in Barcelona at age 15 and finished in first place. The acclaimed painter and sculptor, who created such monumental works as “Guernica,” created more than 22,000 works of art.

Source: Courtesy of Konrad Jacobs / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

11. Srinivasa Ramanujan (1887 – 1920)
> Country of origin: India
> Talent: Mathematician

Srinivasa Ramanujan was renowned for his memory and his love of mathematics — he was obsessed over an obsolete copy of a mathematics textbook at age 16. Ramanujan, who developed a reputation as a math prodigy in India, traveled to England in 1914 and collaborated with Cambridge University mathematician Godfrey Hardy. Ramanujan made significant contributions in the theory of numbers.

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Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

12. Jean Piaget (1896 – 1980)
> Country of origin: Switzerland
> Talent: Psychologist

Jean Piaget, an acclaimed child psychologist, did groundbreaking work on the cognitive development of children. But he became famous first as a child prodigy who became an expert on mollusks, spending hours at a Swiss natural history museum as a boy. Piaget published many papers as a teenager on mollusks, gaining a reputation as an expert on the subject. After earning a doctorate in zoology, he became interested in psychology while studying under Carl Jung and Paul Eugen Bleuler at the University of Zurich.

Source: Courtesy of Department of Energy. Office of Public Affairs / National Archives and Records Administration / Wikimedia Commons

13. Enrico Fermi (1901 – 1954)
> Country of origin: Italy
> Talent: Physicist

Enrico Fermi was one of the pioneers in the development of the atomic bomb and received the Nobel Prize in physics for his research on radioactivity. As a child, the Italian-born Fermi demonstrated a photographic memory and spent his youth constructing electric motors. Fermi immersed himself in trigonometry, physics, and theoretical mechanics as a teenager before distinguishing himself in physics at the University of Pisa.

Source: library_of_congress / Flickr

14. Jascha Heifetz (1901 – 1987)
> Country of origin: Lithuania
> Talent: Violinist

Violin virtuoso Jascha Heifetz is considered by music experts as the greatest violinist of the 20th century. Heifetz, whose father played the violin, first started playing the instrument at age 2 and began performing publicly three years later. By 1911, the boy’s emerging genius was creating a sensation in Russia, where he played before 8,000 people at an outdoor concert. The Russian Revolution uprooted the Heifetz family, who came to the United States in 1917. That year, Heifetz wowed the American public at Carnegie Hall and became an enduring American celebrity.

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Source: Photo by Underwood Archives / Getty Images

15. Winifred Sackville Stoner, Jr. (1902 – 1983)
> Country of origin: United States
> Talent: Poet

Winifred Sackville Stoner, Jr., was called “The Wonder Girl” with good reason. The Virginia native passed the entrance examination for Stanford University when she was 9, and she could speak eight languages before she was a teenager. Stoner penned the famous line “In fourteen hundred ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” Stoner also played the violin, piano, and other instruments.

Source: smithsonian / Flickr

16. Nathalia Crane (1913 – 1998)
> Country of origin: United States
> Talent: Poet

Nathalia Crane became famous for crafting poems that were printed in New York newspapers by the time she was 10. Crane became famous for her dreamy story titled “Romance” (which was later called “The Janitor’s Boy”) about a girl who dreams of running off to a desert island with the son of a janitor. Fame was something of a double-edged sword for Crane, who was accused of being a fraud. She withstood those accusations and continued writing poetry and two novels into her late teens.

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Source: Verhoeff, Bert / Anefo / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

17. Bobby Fischer (1943 – 2008)
> Country of origin: United States
> Talent: Chess grandmaster

Chess grandmaster Bobby Fischer became famous as the first, and so far only, American to win the world chess championship in 1972, when he defeated Boris Spassky in Reykjavik, Iceland. Fischer learned chess from his sister when he was 6. By age 12, he was competing against America’s best chess players. Two years later, he won the U.S. Open Chess Championship and became a grandmaster at age 15.

Source: Courtesy of Heinrich Klaffs / Wikimedia Commons

18. Steve Winwood (1948 -)
> Country of origin: United Kingdom
> Talent: Musician

Steve Winwood, the British musical wunderkind who plays guitar, piano, and mandolin, started on the road to pop music stardom at the age of 15 in 1963 with the rhythm and blues/rock band the Spencer Davis Group. Four years later, he formed the groundbreaking group Traffic, one of the most influential bands of the 1960s and 1970s. The versatile Winwood continued to seek stimulating musical partnerships by combining with Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, and Rick Grech to form Blind Faith in 1969.

Source: Tommaso Boddi / Getty Images

19. Stevie Wonder (1950 -)
> Country of origin: United States
> Talent: Musician

Stevie Wonder (born Steveland Judkins Morris) lived up to his last name. Even though he has been blind since he was a few days old, he learned to write music, play the piano, harmonica, and drums while he was very young. Wonder began his recording career at age 12 and performed under the name Little Stevie Wonder. He went on to post 28 Top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, including the No. 1 “Fingertips – Pt 2” when he was 13 years old, in 1963.

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Source: rupertomiller / Flickr

20. Judit Polgár (1976 -)
> Country of origin: Hungary
> Talent: Chess grandmaster

Judit Polgár was the youngest of three sisters who were accomplished chess players. In 1991, she became, at the time, the world’s youngest grandmaster at 15 years old. Polgár, spurred on by her father who drove all three of his daughters to become chess wizards, competed against only males and rose to eighth in the world in 2005, the only woman to reach the top 10. Polgár no longer plays competitively. She gives TED talks on chess.

Source: Shriram1212 / Wikimedia Commons

21. Praveen Kumar Gorakavi (1989 -)
> Country of origin: India
> Talent: Chemical engineer

Praveen Kumar Gorakavi is accomplished in many areas. When he was 13, he developed a formula to calculate calendars beginning in 20,000 BC to 20,000 AD. He also created an artificial leg that bends at the knee. Additionally, Gorakavi has developed water purification technology and made advancements in biofuel synthesis and solar energy.

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Source: Doc Searls / Wikimedia Commons

22. Anne-Marie Imafidon (1990 -)
> Country of origin: United Kingdom
> Talent: Mathematician

Mathematician Anne-Marie Imafidon is a computing and language prodigy. She was the youngest person to be awarded a master’s degree in mathematics and computer science by the University of Oxford. Imafidon founded the the Stemettes in 2013, an organization focused on encouraging girls to pursue a career in science, engineering, technology, and mathematics. She also co-founded Outbox Incubator, a tech incubator for teen girls.

Source: Halifax International Security Forum / Flickr

23. Taylor Wilson (1994 -)
> Country of origin: United States
> Talent: Nuclear physicist

At age 14, Arkansas native Taylor Wilson, son of a soft-drink bottler and yoga instructor, became the youngest person to build a nuclear reactor. In 2011, he won the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair for his radiation detector, which can be used to find nuclear materials on cargo ships. The innovation impressed President Barack Obama at a science fair his administration sponsored.

Source: Kano Computing / Wikimedia Commons

24. Kelvin Doe (1996 -)
> Country of origin: Sierra Leone
> Talent: Engineer

Sierra Leone native Kelvin Doe taught himself engineering at age 13. He built batteries, amplifiers, transmitters, and other items out of scrap metal and trash. He even started his own radio station. Doe’s innovations got the attention of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which invited him to participate in its “Visiting Practitioner’s Program,” becoming the youngest person to do so.

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Source: Álvaro / Wikimedia Commons

25. Jacob Barnett (1998 -)
> Country of origin: United States
> Talent: Physicist

When he was 2 years old, Jacob Barnett was diagnosed with autism, and his parents were told he would not be able to walk, read, or function independently. His mother Kristine was undeterred and focused her son on his interests in math and science. Barnett responded, and by age 3 he had learned four languages, was completing complex jigsaw puzzles, and taught himself Braille. He became a college student at the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis at age 10 and a published physicist three years later.

Source: Courtesy of Ominisoft Technologies

26. Priyanshi Somani (1998 -)
> Country of origin: India
> Talent: Mental calculator

Priyanshi Somani, who is turning 22 years old this year, is one of the world’s best mental calculators — people who possess an amazing talent to calculate large numbers by addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division without assistance from a device. She began mental calculation at 6 years old, and five years later she was the youngest participant in the Mental Calculation World Cup and won that event. Somani became the first person in the competition to be completely accurate in addition, multiplication, and square roots. She retired from mental calculation competition and is involved in theater in India.

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Source: Courtesy of Akim Camara via Facebook

27. Akim Camara (2000 -)
> Country of origin: Germany
> Talent: Violinist

Akim Camara has been playing the violin since he started to walk. At 2 years old, he was taking music lessons in Berlin and was demonstrating a remarkable ability to remember music. His music instructor began teaching him twice a week. After just six months of instruction, Camara made his debut at a Christmas concert in Berlin at age 3. Dutch violinist Andre Rieu heard about Camara’s extraordinary talent and took him under his wing. Camara has performed on German and Danish television programs. He also performed at New York City’s Radio Music Hall in 2013.

Source: Michael Loccisano / Getty Images

28. Ethan Bortnick (2000 -)
> Country of origin: United States
> Talent: Pianist

Pianist Ethan Bortnick began playing the keyboard at age 3 and started composing his own music two years later. Talk show host Jay Leno brought him on “The Tonight Show” in 2007. Oprah Winfrey acknowledged his extraordinary talent by naming him one of Oprah’s All Time Smartest, Most Talented Kids. Bortnick is in the Guinness World Records book as the youngest solo musician to headline his own concert tour. He also enjoys the distinction as the youngest headliner to play Las Vegas when he was 10.

Source: Jason Kempin / Getty Images

29. Joey Alexander (2003 -)
> Country of origin: Indonesia
> Talent: Pianist

Jazz might not be indigenous to Indonesia, but pianist Joey Alexander took to the music genre early on. Alexander (born Josiah Alexander Sila) is a self-taught musician who got his first keyboard at 6. His dad, who went to college in the United States, passed along his love of jazz to his son by giving him some jazz CDs. By the time he was 8, Alexander was known in Indonesian jazz circles and played with touring jazz great Herbie Hancock. He entered and won a jazz competition in Ukraine when he was 9 years old. Alexander has been nominated for three jazz Grammy awards.

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Source: Courtesy of NASA

30. Tanishq Matthew Abraham (2003 -)
> Country of origin: United States
> Talent: Biomedical engineer

At 4 years old, Tanishq Matthew Abraham was one of the youngest members of IQ society Mensa International, where he scored a 99.9 on its IQ test. A year later, Abraham completed math courses from kindergarten to fifth grade in just six months. By the time he was 6, he was taking high school and college classes. In 2018, Abraham, received a bachelor’s degree with honors in biomedical engineering at the University of California-Davis — he was 15.

Source: Hannes Magerstaedt / Getty Images

31. Alma Deutscher (2005 -)
> Country of origin: England
> Talent: Composer

When you are compared to Mozart, that’s saying something. For Alma Deutscher, those comparisons started when she was barely in kindergarten. Deutscher started playing the piano at 2 and the violin at 3. At age 7, she composed a short opera titled “The Sweeper of Dreams,” and she wrote a full opera between the ages of 8 and 12 titled “Cinderella.” Deutscher’s first piano solo album, “From My Book of Melodies,” was released last year. Her Carnegie Hall debut in December 2019 was a sellout.

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