Freemasonry is one of the world‘s oldest secular fraternal organizations, with a rich history dating back hundreds of years. Tracing their origins to medieval stonemason guilds, Freemasons embrace moral and spiritual principles like charity, equality, and truth. Throughout history, many influential figures and luminaries have been part of this secretive group. Here is an overview of some of the most famous and notable Freemasons through the centuries.
Founding Fathers and Early American Freemasons
Many of America‘s Founding Fathers and early presidents were Freemasons. This includes revolutionary leaders like George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, and Paul Revere. Franklin was even a founding member of the first Masonic lodge in America in 1730. Other notable early American Masons were John Marshall, James Madison, Andrew Jackson, Davy Crockett, and Sam Houston. By some estimates, over a third of signers of the Declaration of Independence were Freemasons. Masonic principles of democracy and equality aligned with their Enlightenment values.
U.S. Presidents Who Were Freemasons
14 U.S. presidents have been Freemasons, starting with George Washington. Some other presidents who were Masons include:
- James Monroe
- Andrew Jackson
- James Polk
- James Buchanan
- Andrew Johnson
- James Garfield
- William McKinley
- Theodore Roosevelt
- William Taft
- Warren Harding
- Franklin D. Roosevelt
- Harry Truman
- Gerald Ford
Gerald Ford was the last president to be a Freemason. He was raised to the order in 1949.
Famous Freemasons in the Arts and Sciences
Many renowned artists, thinkers, and scientists have been drawn to Freemasonry over the centuries. Some notable examples include:
- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Composer, became a Mason in 1784
- Oscar Wilde – Irish writer, joined Apollo University Lodge in Oxford
- Mark Twain – American author, was a Mason for over 50 years
- Buzz Aldrin – Astronaut, joined Masonic lodge in Texas before Apollo 11 mission
- Alexander Fleming – Discoverer of Penicillin, joined Scottish lodge in 1921
Other famous Freemasons from the world of arts and science include Voltaire, Goethe, Davy Crockett, Duke Ellington, and William Hogarth.
Military Leaders Who Were Masons
The Freemasons boast many famous military leaders and war heroes among their ranks:
- George Washington – Revolutionary War general and 1st Commander-in-Chief
- Andrew Jackson – Battle of New Orleans hero and 7th President
- Douglas MacArthur – World War II Pacific commander
- Benedict Arnold – Revolutionary War general who defected to British
- Arthur Wellesley – British victor at Waterloo over Napoleon
Other notable military members include the Duke of Wellington, Winston Churchill, James Bowie, and Edwin Aldrin. Some rankings estimate nearly a third of Revolutionary War generals were Freemasons.
Famous British Freemasons
Many famous Britons have been part of Masonic lodges. In 1717, the first Grand Lodge formed in England, helping spread Freemasonry through the British Empire globally. Some of the most famous British Masons include:
- Winston Churchill – Prime Minister, joined in 1901
- Arthur Wellesley – Duke of Wellington, defeated Napoleon
- Robert Peel – Prime Minister and founder of modern policing
- Edward VII – King of England from 1901 to 1910
- Alfred Robbins – Prominent figure in English politics
Other historically significant British Freemasons were writers Rudyard Kipling and Arthur Conan Doyle, explorer Ernest Shackleton, and economist John Maynard Keynes.
Degrees and Organization of Freemasonry
Freemasonry has a hierarchy and organizational structure based around degrees. The three main degrees are:
- Entered Apprentice
- Master Mason
After Master Mason, members can pursue further degrees through branches like the Scottish Rite (with 32 degrees) and York Rite. The York Rite has degrees like Royal Arch Masonry. The highest degree attainable is the 33rd degree in the Scottish Rite, though only a small fraction of Masons reach this level.
Prominent Minority American Freemasons
While restricted for much of history, some important minority figures have joined Freemasonry. These include:
- Prince Hall – Abolitionist, started African Lodge #1
- Booker T. Washington – African American author and activist
- Alex Haley – Writer of Roots, joined in 1959
- Thurgood Marshall – First African American Supreme Court Justice
- Hubert Humphrey – Civil rights activist and 38th Vice President
Barack Obama‘s grandfather and uncle were also members of a primarily African American Masonic lodge.
Famous Freemason Symbols and Rituals
Part of what makes Freemasonry so mystifying are its symbols, rituals, and rites. Some of the most well-known Masonic symbols include:
- The Square and Compasses
- The All-Seeing Eye
- The Letter "G" for "God" or Geometry
- The Masonic Apron
Masonic rituals are highly ceremonial and involve gestures, oaths, dramatizations, and allegorical morality plays. All members must go through initiation rituals for each degree which impart Masonic teachings.
Secrecy has always been integral to Freemasonry, though many of their traditions have entered public knowledge today. Despite much speculation and conspiracy theories, the true extent of their influence remains hidden. What is clear is that Freemasonry has attracted leading lights across many domains for centuries. Though its membership has dwindled, its rich legacy lives on through the lasting achievements of its famous initiates.