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Famous Freemasons: A Guide to Well-Known Members Throughout History

Hey friend! As a fellow internet geek passionate about discovering new things, I thought you might be interested in learning about famous Freemasons throughout history.

Who were the most significant Freemasons, you ask? Well strap in, because we‘re going to dive deep into this mysterious fraternal order and its famous members!

Introducing the Freemasons

Let‘s start with a quick primer. Freemasonry is one of the world‘s oldest secular fraternities, with a fascinating history dating back hundreds of years. It uses the metaphor of building and architecture to convey moral and ethical lessons that promote self-improvement and service to the community.

With their secret handshakes, symbols and rituals, the Freemasons capture our imagination. But who exactly has been part of this cryptic brotherhood over the years?

Founding Fathers: Revolutionaries and Freemasons

It may surprise you to learn that many of America‘s founding fathers were Freemasons! In fact, some studies suggest that over 10% of Revolutionary-era generals, merchants, clergymen and intellectual elites in colonial America were Masons. That includes these big names:

Benjamin Franklin – Founding father, author, inventor, scientist and…Freemason! He joined the first Masonic lodge in Philadelphia in 1731. He later became the Worshipful Master of Pennsylvania and published the first Masonic book in America.

George Washington – The indispensable man himself was a committed Freemason. He joined the Fredericksburg, Virginia lodge in 1752 and later served as Master of the Alexandria, Virginia lodge. As president, he laid the cornerstone of the Capitol building in full Masonic regalia.

Other Founding Fathers like John Hancock, Paul Revere and John Paul Jones were also proud Freemasons. In fact, of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, at least 9 are confirmed to be members of the Freemasons.

Presidents in the Order

Speaking of presidents, at least 14 U.S. presidents have been Freemasons:

  • George Washington
  • James Monroe
  • Andrew Jackson
  • James Polk
  • James Buchanan
  • Andrew Johnson
  • James Garfield
  • William McKinley
  • Theodore Roosevelt
  • William Taft
  • Warren Harding
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt
  • Harry S. Truman
  • Gerald Ford

President Truman famously said, "Freemasonry is a system of moral conduct and progressive social leadership. It holds no fallacies of dogma or superstition." Wise words!

Military Leaders Joining Forces

The bonds of brotherhood and service have also attracted many legendary military leaders to the Freemasons:

  • Brigadier General Jacob Hurd Smith – Served in the Civil War and Indian Wars
  • Admiral Ernest King – Chief of Naval Operations in WWII
  • General Douglas MacArthur – World War I, II and Korean War general
  • General Omar Bradley – World War II general
  • Buzz Aldrin – Korean War fighter pilot before becoming an astronaut

In fact, during the American Revolution, an estimated 46-52 of General Washington‘s senior officers were Freemasons!

Scientists Searching for Enlightenment

The metaphysical symbolism and enlightenment values of Freemasonry appealed to many great scientific minds:

  • Benjamin Franklin – Inventor, author, politician…and Freemason!
  • Sir Alexander Fleming – Discoverer of penicillin
  • Edward Jenner – Pioneer of the smallpox vaccine
  • Joseph Lister – Father of antiseptic surgery
  • J.J. Thomson – Discovered the electron
  • Sir William Crookes – Chemist and physicist, discovered thallium

Some credit Freemasonry‘s ideals of morality and rational thinking for helping drive the Age of Enlightenment and scientific revolution of the 17th and 18th centuries.

Creative Giants in the Arts

Freemasonry‘s mysterious rituals and moral themes inspired many creative geniuses:

  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Composer, joined a Viennese Masonic lodge in 1784
  • Ludwig van Beethoven – Composer, said to be an honorary member
  • Oscar Wilde – Irish poet and playwright
  • Mark Twain – Author of classics like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn
  • Irving Berlin – Composer and lyricist, wrote "White Christmas" and "God Bless America"

Some credit Freemasonry for spreading Enlightenment ideals that influenced these artists. Others say it provided networking for career development and patronage.

Captains of Industry

As a male-only order of moral instruction and brotherhood, Freemasonry held great appeal for captains of industry:

  • Henry Ford – Pioneering automaker, joined the Palestra Lodge No. 357
  • Colonel Sanders – Founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken
  • J.C. Penney – Founded the department store chain bearing his name
  • Conrad Hilton – Founder of Hilton Hotels
  • William Wrigley, Jr. – Chewing gum magnate, joined in 1894
  • Lewis Comer and John Patterson – Co-founded National Cash Register Company

Networking through Masonic lodges helped these businessmen build trust and support for their ventures.

All-Star Athletes Among the Ranks

Champion athletes from many sports have also been drawn to Freemasonry:

  • Shaquille O‘Neal – 15-time NBA All-Star center
  • Arnold Palmer – Golf legend, won 92 tournaments
  • Ty Cobb – MLB record holder for highest career batting average
  • Jack Dempsey – World Heavyweight Boxing Champion, 1919-1926
  • Cy Young – MLB pitcher, 511 career wins, baseball Hall of Famer

Perhaps they were attracted by the moral instruction or fraternal bonding. Maybe they saw it as a way to give back to their community. Either way, some of the greats have been Masons!

Freemasonry Goes Global

Far from just an American institution, Freemasonry boasts famous members worldwide:

  • King Edward VII and VIII – British royalty
  • Sir Winston Churchill – Iconic prime minister of the U.K.
  • Motilal Nehru – Prominent leader in India‘s independence movement
  • José de San Martín – Leader of the southern part of South America‘s independence struggle from Spain
  • José Rizal – National hero of the Philippines

Today, there are more than 6 million Freemasons around the world, with 175 recognized grand lodges governing Masonic bodies in different jurisdictions.

Ranks and Degrees of Freemasonry

As members gain more knowledge, they can advance through different degrees:

  • Entered Apprentice – 1st degree
  • Fellowcraft – 2nd degree
  • Master Mason – 3rd degree
  • Scottish Rite – Advanced degrees, 4th-33rd
  • York Rite – Advanced degrees
  • Shriners – Fraternity for Master Masons

The 33rd degree of the Scottish Rite is an honorary rank bestowed on members who have made significant contributions to Freemasonry or society in general. Only about 1% of Masons ever reach this highest order.

Secret Symbols and Rituals

Freemasonry makes use of many metaphors from geometry, architecture and the builder‘s craft. Some key symbols include:

  • The square and compasses – Represents morality, truthfulness and fairness
  • The level and plumb-line – Symbolize equality and upright character
  • Columns and pediment – Represent wisdom and structure

Elaborate initiation rituals dramatize moral lessons using allegorical symbols, tableaus and ceremonies modeled on the Medieval stonemason guilds.

Women and Freemasonry

Freemasonry has traditionally been an all-male order. Female relatives of Masons can join affiliated groups like the Order of the Eastern Star, but mainstream Freemasonry excludes women entirely.

However, there are "co-Masonic" lodges that do admit both men and women. Also, there are several all-female Masonic organizations, including:

  • Order of Women Freemasons
  • Honorable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons
  • Grand Loge Féminine de France

So while mainstream Freemasonry remains male-only, some offshoot lodges are opening up to women.

Controversies and Conspiracies

As a secretive group of influential members, Freemasonry has faced various controversies over the centuries:

  • Catholic Church hostility – The church has condemned Freemasonry for promoting naturalistic beliefs
  • Banned by totalitarian regimes – Freemasonry was outlawed in Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union due to fears of political opposition
  • Racial segregation – Some U.S. Masonic lodges excluded African Americans well into the 20th century
  • Conspiracy theories – Some claim the Freemasons secretly control politics, economics and media

Despite these controversies, Freemasonry continues to attract members to this day who are drawn by its moral symbolism, philosophical approach and sense of brotherhood.

The Bottom Line

Hope this breakdown gave you some insight into this fascinating order! From Founding Fathers to famous scientists, artists, presidents and business tycoons, Freemasonry has attracted some big names over the centuries who were drawn to its moral instruction, networking and secretive rituals.

Let me know if you have any other questions! This history nerd aims to enlighten 😉