8 Iconic People Who Kept Journals

  Friday, April 24, 2020

Did you know that some of history’s biggest names kept journals? It really shouldn’t be a surprise. Research has shown that journaling improves mental health, decreases stress, and even helps with organization and memory. These benefits make journaling the perfect tool for successful people. Let’s look at some of the most inspiring, successful figures who kept journals during their lifetimes. Prepare to be surprised when you see the names on this list. They are icons in every sense of the word. 

1. Leonardo da Vinci

If you conducted a poll with the question, “Who was the greatest intellectual and artist during the Italian Renaissance?” most would probably answer with “Leonardo da Vinci.” You might think he spent all of his time creating masterpieces and immersing himself in the sciences, he was also known for keeping a journal. While his art is to be admired, his journal is where you really gain insight into who he was. If you were to page through the notebooks, you would see writings on topics including architecture and astronomy. He even included a design for shoes to use to walk on water. His genius shines through in the pages, but the little daily reminders and notes for himself stand out. That’s when you remember that he was actually a mortal who needed to make a list before going to the grocery store.   

With his love of technology, just imagine how thrilled da Vinci would be if he knew that the British Library digitized one of his notebooks and made it available for public consumption online. 

2. Thomas Edison

With more than 1,000 patents and some of the most important inventions of all time, it’s clear that Thomas Edison’s mind was always working. When a brain is in overdrive, you have to write your ideas down or you risk losing them. With that in mind, Edison took more than 5 million pages of notes. While his brilliant mind might be gone, he did leave his notebooks behind, and they give insight into the inner workings of the prolific inventor. The notebooks contain ideas for patents and inventions. He even wrote about his business dealings. 

3. Charles Darwin

Can you imagine picking Charles Darwin’s brain? Like Edison’s, it seemed to always be in overdrive, coming up with scientific theories and ideas in rapid-fire succession. Also, like Edison, he wrote those ideas down, and that’s probably part of the reason he was so successful and made such an impact on the world. He started journaling during his expedition on the HMS Beagle. Darwin conducted research during the expedition, and his findings helped him form his groundbreaking theories of natural selection and evolution. Those findings can be found in his journal in both writing and sketches. He realized just how important those entries were and published the journal for the public to read. You can buy a copy of “The Voyage of the Beagle” and see just how brilliant he was. 

4. Mark Twain

Samuel Clemens, better known by his pen name Mark Twain, is possibly the most famous American author to ever live. He was even dubbed the “father of American literature” by William Faulkner. Twain had more than 20 novels under his belt, but he didn’t always write with publishing in mind. Much of his time was spent writing in his journal. Twain spent decades filling pocket notebooks with his thoughts on religion, politics, and people. He also wrote of personal moments and, of course, added some jokes. By the time he passed away, he’d filled 50 or more of those little notebooks, and while he might not have meant for them to make their way into the public, many of them are now available in digital form. If you want to read his journals for yourself, head to the Mark Twain Project Online. You can also peruse his letters and other writings. 

5. Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity is considered one of, if not the, greatest achievements of all time. He saw the world differently, and that allowed him to advance physics in ways that had seemed impossible. As most great minds do, he spent much of his time writing. He left 80,000 pages of writings behind, and while many focused on science and lectures, he also kept a detailed travel diary. This is where you can see Einstein’s personality shine through. The journals detail his trips to Israel, the United States, and other places, and many of the journals have been digitized, so you can read them via the 

Einstein Archives Online

. It’s truly fascinating to take a deep dive into the mind of a genius. When you go to the archives, type “Travel” into the search so you start with the travel journals. 

6. Frida Kahlo

Artist Frida Kahlo’s artwork is full of symbolism, as is her journal. She kept the journal from 1944-54 and filled the pages with poems, musings, and outlines for future pieces of art. The colorful illustrations jump from the page and make you feel like you are living alongside her, experiencing her emotions. The emotions get darker as you flip through the pages, but the beauty of her art still jumps out. You can tell that she used the journal to deal with some serious emotions, many of which were tied to her poor health. Tragedy, talent, and beauty collide on the pages, and the journal is a work of art in its own right. 

7. Lewis and Clark

When Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set off on the Corps of Discovery Expedition on Aug. 31, 1803, they were going into unchartered territory. They needed to explore and map the land the country received in the Louisiana Purchase, and that wasn’t something they could do from memory. President Thomas Jefferson instructed the explorers to keep field journals during the expedition. They filled 18 in total, and the pages contain lots of information about the land, from maps to the weather. Without the journals, it’s unlikely that the expedition would have been successful. 

8. Marie Curie

To say that Marie Curie was brilliant would be an understatement. From her groundbreaking research on radiation to her two Nobel Prizes, her legend lives on today. While you cannot go back in time and watch her work, she left behind notebooks filled with her research. Like Curie, the notebooks were exposed to radiation. While she died in 1934, her notebooks live on — but they are radioactive. France’s National Library now has the research notebooks, but they must be kept in lead-lined boxes due to radiation. Fortunately, people can view the notebooks, with a caveat. They must wear protective gear and sign a liability waiver beforehand. This will be the case for another 1,500 years or so.

Journaling — The Secret to Success 

While these eight people stand out, other famous people have kept journals. When you journal, you will join the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Winston Churchill, Ben Franklin, George Patton, and more. Keeping a journal can help you unlock your potential, so get started and see what you can accomplish.

Health Disclaimer

JournalOwl is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, medication, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptoms or conditions. JournalOwl is not authorized to make recommendations about medication or serve as a substitute for professional advice. You should never disregard professional psychological or medical advice, or delay in seeking treatment, based on anything you read on JournalOwl’s website or platform.

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