The Freemasons, a fraternal organisation developed from the stonemasons, include more than 6 million members worldwide.
Despite nearing 300 years of activity, the Freemasons remain mysterious, with many of their records destroyed naturally by time. But a few member lists survived — and they name some of the most influential people throughout history.
Benjamin Franklin — Saint John’s Lodge, Philadelphia; 1730
Benjamin Franklin became a member of Saint John’s Lodge in Philadelphia in 1730, a few years after starting his own society, the Leather Apron Club.
He remained active in the group for more than 50 years, serving as Grand Master of Pennsylvania in 1734. He also printed the first Masonic publication, ‘The Constitutions of the Free-Masons,’ in the colonies. The book remains one of the rarest in the world, with only 20 verified copies currently.
While in Paris during the American Revolution, Franklin served as Venerable Master from 1779 to 1781. His membership in the order didn’t interfere with his role as a Founding Father and American inventor.
George Washington — Fredericksburg Lodge, Virginia; 1752
Initiated in 1752 at the Fredericksburg Lodge in Virginia, the first President of the United States had a strong relationship with the Masons.Washington performed Masonic rites at the laying of the U.S. Capitol’s cornerstone on September 18, 1793.
He remained a member until death and received a masonic funeral at the request of his widow. Over the years, many Masons, as well as members of the Knights Templar, have taken pilgrimages to Mount Vernon, the location of Washington’s tomb.
A statue of Washington commissioned by the state of Virginia greets visitors at the Scottish Rite Museum and Library in Lexington, Mass.
Paul Revere — St. Andrew’s Lodge, Massachusetts, 1760
After his initiation in 1760, Paul Revere served as Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts from 1795 to 1797.
He contributed to the creation of many lodges within his home state and instituted new positions and traditions. His son also became a Freemason.
To this day, no one really knows who started the Boston Tea Party, but many historians speculate early members of the colonial Freemasons may have contributed.
François-Marie Arouet (Voltaire) — La Loge des Neuf Soeurs; Paris, France; 1778
François-Marie Arouet wrote under the name Voltaire. Initiated at the Lodge of Nine Sisters in 1778, he wrote many notable books, including ‘Candide’ and ‘Dictionnaire Philosophique.’ The ideas in these books heavily influenced the Enlightenment and the French Revolution.
Benjamin Franklin partly founded the Lodge of Nine Sisters and reportedly urged Voltaire to join. The two shared a friendship outside the society, as well.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — Zur Wohltätigkeit (Charity) Lodge, Austria, 1784
An Austrian composer and son of a Freemason, Mozart created a number of masonic musical numbers during his prolific career. He joined the Zur Wohltätigkeit (Charity) Lodge in Austria in 1784.
Unfortunately, just as Mozart’s life came to a close, so did Freemasonry in Austria due to political uncertainties. (The country later revived Freemasonry.)
Famous musicians often dabbled in Freemasonry. For example, Franz Joseph Haydn belonged to the same lodge as Mozart, while Johann Christian Bach joined in London.
Simón Bolívar — Lautaro Lodge; Cadiz, Spain; 1803
South American liberator and political leader Simón Bolívar led the great struggle for independence from the Spanish Empire. Initiated in 1803 at Masonic Lodge ‘Lautaro’ in Cadiz, Spain, he served as president of both Columbia and Peru.
In April 1824, Bolívar recieved the 33rd degree of Inspector General Honorary, the highest position in Freemasons.
While his revolutionary ideals seem at odds with the peace-keeping mission of the Masons, many scholars believe Bolívar’s decision to free Venezuela sprouted in Masonic meetings. There, he met his peers, José de San Martín and Mariano Moreno, among other South American pro-independence notables.
John Brown — Hudson Lodge No. 68; Hudson, Ohio; 1824
A militant abolitionist, John Brown joined the Freemasons in Ohio in 1824. However, he later quit after speculation that he was involved in the disappearance of William Morgan.
There were rumours that Freemasons had kidnapped and murdered Morgan, a brickmason who visited Masonic lodges. The speculation, which Freemasons denied, fuelled talk that the group engaged in satanic rituals.
Many historians consider Brown’s raid on slaveholders at Harper’s Ferry in Virginia to have sparked the Civil War. He was reportedly buried with Masonic honours, and his son joined the order, as well.
Samuel Clemens (a.k.a. Mark Twain) — Polar Star Lodge No 79, St. Louis, 1861
Better known as literary giant Mark Twain, Samuel Clemens became a member of the Polar Star Lodge No. 79 in St. Louis in 1861. Within a few months of joining, he ascended to Master Mason.
In ‘Tom Sawyer’s Conspiracy,’ Twain makes one of his many literary references to the Masons by characterising a pillar of the local community as a member.
Other authors, such as Jonathon Swift and John Steinbeck, also belonged to the order.
Winston Churchill — Studholme Alliance Lodge No. 1591, London, 1901
A two-time British Prime Minister and honorary citizen of the United States, Winston Churchill became a member of the English Masons in 1901.
While he had a family history with the Masons, as well as many Mason friends, Churchill personally had little to do with the order outside of limited social engagements. He only made Masonic contact on two recorded occasions and resigned from his lodge in 1912.
Harry Truman — Belton Lodge No. 450; Grandview, Mo.; 1909
Initiated in 1909, Truman quickly climbed the Masonic hierarchy, becoming Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Missouri from 1940 to 1941.
In 1945, coincidentally the same year he assumed the office of the Presidency, the organisation honored him as 33rd Degree Scottish Rite Mason.
Truman described the Freemasons in a 1939 letter to his wife, according to the Truman Library.
‘Freemasonry is a system of morals which makes it easier to live with your fellow man, whether he understands it or not,’ he wrote.
Alexander Fleming — Sancta Maria Lodge No. 2682, London, 1909
Initiated in 1909 in London, Scottish biologist Alexander Fleming discovered the curative properties of penicillin, one of the most widely used antibiotics today.
He became the master of his lodge in 1924 and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1945.
Earl Warren — Sequoia Lodge No. 349, Oakland, 1919
Earl Warren, an influential Supreme Court Chief Justice from 1953 to 1969, joined Sequoia Lodge No. 349 in California, according to Jim Newton’s ‘Justice for All: Earl Warren and the Nation He Made.’
Not a month passed where he didn’t regularly attend meetings, Newton wrote.
Warren’s ideologies on the bench most notably ended school segregation in Brown v. Board of Education. His other landmark rulings include: Gideon v. Wainwright, Reynolds v. Sims, and Miranda v. Arizona.
J. Edgar Hoover — Federal Lodge No. 1; Washington, DC; 1920
J. Edgar Hoover — the most famous director of the FBI — was also an active member of the Freemasons.
Initiated in 1920 at D.C.’s Federal Lodge No. 1, he became a Master Mason by age 25 and a 33rd Degree Inspector General Honorary in 1955. He also received the Grand Cross of Honour — the highest recognition by the Scottish Rite — in 1965.
A first-floor room in the Mason’s House of the Temple even reconstructs his office.
Douglas MacArthur — Grand Lodge of the Philippines, 1936
Made a ‘Mason on sight,’ meaning his initiation wasn’t explicitly planned, Douglas MacArthur is considered the ‘liberator’ of the Philippines. But President Truman, another Freemason, later relieved him of his command in 1951.
Arthur MacArthur, his father, also belonged to the order and served as Master Mason at Magnolia Lodge No. 60 in Little Rock, Ark.
John Glenn — Concord Lodge No. 688; New Concord, Ohio; 1978
Made a ‘mason at sight’ in 1978, astronaut and politician John Glenn served in the Concord Lodge No. 688 in Ohio. The Grand Master of Ohio decided to induct Glenn after he circled the planet and served four consecutive terms in the Senate.
Glenn eventually became a 33rd Degree Scottish Rite Mason in 1998 and recieved a sacred ring on display at the National Heritage Museum & Library.
The Masons also inducted Buzz Aldrin, the second person to walk on the moon.
Steve Wozniak — Charity Lodge No 362, California, 1980
One of the co-founders of Apple, Steve Wozniak joined joined the Freemasons in 1980 at the Charity Lodge No. 362 in California. He’s one of the most famous current members.
Jesse Jackson — Harmony Lodge No. 88, Chicago, 1987
Initiated in 1987, the Reverend Jesse Jackson is believed a 33rd Degree Prince Hall Freemason, a sect that famously severed ties with mainstream Grand Lodges over racial tensions.
He reportedly became a Master Mason in 1987. Jackson joined the Harmony Lodge No. 88 in Chicago and continues his work with the Masons to this day, along with his civil rights work.
Other big names include: John Jacob Astor, Andrew Jackson, William ‘Bud’ Abbott, Salvador Allende, Nat King Cole, Samuel Colt, Duke Ellington, all seven Ringling brothers, Shaquille O’Neal, Oscar Wilde, and John Wayne — just to name a few.