Biography of Adam Smith

Drawing of Adam Smith

Adam Smith was a Scottish Economist most known for his work “The Wealth of Nations”.

When and Where was he Born?

5th June 1723, Kirkcaldy, Fife, Scotland.

Family Background:

Adam Smith’s father, who was a Customs Officer, died before his birth.


Local Burgh school. Glasgow University. Balliol College, Oxford.

Timeline of Adam Smith:

1748: Under the patronage of Lord Kames he delivers public lectures in Edinburgh on Rhetoric, belles lettres and moral philosophy.

1750: He meets the philosopher David Hume who was to become one of his closest friends.

1751: He is appointed Professor of Logic at Glasgow University.

1755: Smith is appointed to the Chair of Moral Philosophy at Glasgow University.

1759: He publishes his “Theory of Moral sentiments”, based around sympathy for other people’s predicaments.

1764: Smith resigns his professorships to become the tutor to the Duke of Buccleugh. He travels widely in France with the Duke, where he meets D’Alembert, Voltaire (major figures of the Enlightenment) and Quesnay, the Head of the Physiocratic School of French Economists who was to have a great influence on him.

1767: He is elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London.

Bust of Adam Smith
Bust of Adam Smith on the rear facade of the 
Royal Academy of Arts in London (copyright  Anthony Blagg)

1776: Smith publishes his seminal work “Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.” This book is the first to establish political economy as an independent subject and remains one of the most important books on economics ever written. Amongst other things it describes the theory of the “Division of Labour” whereby products are made quicker and more skillfully if they are made by a team of specialists rather than one artisan.

1776: He watches the illness and eventual death of Hume and edits some of his papers. He travels to London and becomes a member of a club which is also frequented by Joshua Reynolds, Samuel Johnson and David Garrick.

1777: He is invited by Prime Minister William Pitt the Elder to be the guest of honour at a public dinner, to be seated first, as he said “we are all your scholars”.

1778: Smith becomes Commissioner of Customs at Edinburgh until his death and he goes to live with his mother.

Adam Smith statue, Edinburgh
Statue of Adam Smith near St Giles Cathedral 
on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh (copyright  Anthony Blagg)

1787: Smith is elected Lord Rector of Glasgow University in succession to his friend Edmund Burke.

1790: Shortly before his death Smith had most of the manuscripts of his work destroyed and complained that he had not achieved enough in life.

When and Where did he Die?

17th July 1790, in the northern wing of Panmure House in Edinburgh, Scotland of “a painful illness”.

Age at Death:


Written Works:

1759: “The Theory of Moral Sentiments”
1776: “The Wealth of Nations”.


Never married.

Site of Grave:

Canongate Churchyard, Edinburgh, Scotland.

Places of Interest:


National Library of Scotland.
Royal Mile.

Adam Smith paving slab
Paving Slab commemoration to Adam Smith in the Royal Mile, Edinburgh (copyright Anthony Blagg)


Glasgow University.

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