September 24 – Happy Birthday, Sarah Knauss

Posted on September 24, 2018

The woman whose birthday we celebrate today didn't live a super-amazing life. She was born on this date in 1880 in a small town in Pennsylvania, in the U.S., and she married and raised a family as well as became a manager of an insurance agency, a recorder of deeds, and a political leader at her county party level. 

But those are not accomplishments that will earn a person an article in Wikipedia. The super amazing thing that Sarah Knauss did to earn that was that she lived a long, long, long time.

Did you know that a person who lives past her or his 100th birthday is called a centenarian? You probably recognize that this word comes from the same root word in century (100 years) and centimeter (1/100th of a meter). 

Well, Knauss wasn't just a centenarian - she was what's called a supercentenarian! That's someone who lives past his or her 110th birthday.

Sarah Knauss lived 119 years and 97 days. She still has the title "America's oldest person," even though she died in 1999, because she is the oldest person to have ever lived in the U.S. (that was fully documented, that is). She is the second oldest fully-documented person to have lived in the world, after a French woman who lived to be 122 years old.

This is Sarah Knauss back
when she was Sarah Clark,
age 17.

The year was 1897:
William McKinley was president,
there were 45 states in the U.S.,
the first U.S. subway opened
in Boston, Thomas Edison
patented the Kinetoscope
(which was an invention on
the pathway to inventing the
movie projector).
That means that Knauss lived through the administrations of 23 presidents! She lived during the 1800s and the 1900s, and she just missed living in the 2000s by a mere 33 hours!!!

Theoretically humans should be able to live up to 126 years old, although nobody has ever done that (by which I mean that nobody has been documented to have ever done that, of course). The average human lifespan is way, way lower - 79 years. But, if you can believe it, there are and have been hundreds and hundreds of supercentenarians, and there are hundreds of thousands of centenarians.

Other animals have very different lifespans. Bunnies that are pets (and therefore cared for and protected) live about 7 to 12 years, dragonflies live only 4 months, and mayflies famously live only 1 day. 

On the other hand, some creatures live a long time: cockatoos that are pets live an average of 50 years, but at least one has lived 79 years; giant tortoises live an average of 100 years, and one lived to be about 175 years old; and bowhead whales can live longer than 200 years! 

The oldest known vertebrate is the Greenland shark, which can live at least 272 years! 

And some invertebrates live even longer: the ocean quahog (a kind of clam) can live more than 400 years, the Antarctic sponge can live more than 1,550 years, and one particular kind of jellyfish bypasses death by cycling between its "baby" stage and its adult stage, over and over again - so it seems like it could live "forever"...

Also on this date:

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