On The Number 49

49 is also a golden number.
49 is also a golden number.
Forty-nine is the square of 7, or 7, 7 times over. Seven is a lucky number, so 49 must be 7 times luckier than 7. We begin on fortunate ground. Much more can be said about this remarkable number. To quote Wikipedia:

49 (forty-nine) is the natural number following 48 and preceding 50.

Now that that’s settled…

Forty-nine figures in The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Ruggles Pynchon, about which the San Francisco Examiner said, “A puzzle, an intrigue, a literary and historical tour de force with a strongly European flavor.” Meaning it is of sufficient opacity they dare not profess a lack of understanding and risk appearing ignorant.

Ruggles was also the middle name of Benjamin Woodbridge, an American commander at the Battle of Bunker Hill, once know to schoolchildren as a Pyrrhic victory for the British. Woodbridge emerged flush from the war, became a successful businessman and built the Sycamores in 1788 when he was 49. Sycamores eventually made its way into the hands of Mount Holyoke College in 1915, where it was turned into a dormitory. Mount Holyoke, founded by Mary Mason Lyon, was originally a seminary, and is now whatever the opposite of that is.

Lyon died in 1849, the same year in which the short-lived Roman Republic was founded. Forty-nine is also the number of the Roman Britain room at the British Museum, which contains artifacts from 49 BC, the year Julius crossed the Rubicon, initiating the Roman Civil War and ending the first Roman Republic.

Julius was emboldened in part because in 51 BC, when he was 49, he finally tamed Gaul and could turn his attentions elsewhere. He wrote of his experiences in the justifiably famous Commentaries on the Gallic War, a work of 8 books, of which Caesar wrote the first 7. The physical boundaries of Gaul were roughly those of modern-day France. The cultural boundaries were arrayed somewhat differently, but were sufficiently coherent to lead eventually in the Twentieth Century to the theory of Gaullism, which held that France ought to hold its nose high among the nations of the world and be a leader, not a follower.

One of the major proponents of Gaullism was (inevitably?) Charles de Gaulle, who was 49 when Germany invaded Poland starting the European portion of World War II. De Gaulle famously fled to England after hostilities broke out in France in 1940, which caused the Vichy government to condemn him to death in absentia (the number of in place actual bodies the collaborationists sentenced to death we pass over in silence).

Winston Churchill had a rocky relationship with de Gaulle, but it was Churchill who was instrumental in de Gaulle’s BBC broadcasts appealing to the citizens of France to support the Free French, an organization of which de Gaulle appointed himself leader. The book to read is De Gaulle: The Rebel 1890-1944 by Jean Lacouture, translated into English by Patrick O’Brian.

Churchill naturally had many dealings with de Gaulle during and after the war, and he was on vacation in the south of France in 1949 when he suffered the first of many strokes. This was the same year Patrick O’Brian moved to the south of France. O’Brian, as fans of sea-stories well know, made his fame by writing a twenty-volume historical novel of the Napoleonic wars. Napoleon had himself crowned Emperor in 1804, the same year in which Alexander Hamilton was killed in a duel with Aaron Burr. Hamilton was 49.

Hamilton, despite his temper was an otherwise shrewd politician. Consider the infamous Shay Rebellion. After the rebel forces were crushed, several of its leaders fled to Vermont, which at the time was pressing for Statehood. Many were angry at Vermont for allowing itself to turn into a haven, but Hamilton successfully turned opinion around. Today Vermont ranks 49th in population.

Shay’s rebellion began in 1786 when disgruntled Revolutionary War veterans and others raided the Springfield, Massachusetts Armory. This was 196, or 49 times 4, years after the founding of that city by William Pynchon, the author in 1649 of this country’s first banned book The Meritorious Price of Our Redemption. Thomas Pynchon is a descendant from the same William Pynchon.

Perhaps most curious of all is that 1649, when rearranged, gives 1964, which is 49 years before today.


  1. Chuck L

    Oh, to be 49 again. I read the “Crying of Lot 49” for a contemporary lit class in college and hated every word on every page of that book!

  2. Scotian

    Briggs, you either have too much time on your hands or you just turned 49 or both. In either case 49 is also the last year that you can pretend to be young.

  3. MattS

    But 42 is the answer to life the universe and everything.

  4. Richard A

    What are the odds?!

  5. Ye Olde Statistician

    49 was the number of Ron Guidry, and was retired by the Yankees.

  6. DAV

    If appropriate: Happy Birthday. Keep in mind the 49 is only on loan. You’ll have to turn it in next year and never see it again.

  7. We read, and forget, that sometimes the only pay we receive is a well conceived comment.

    Had I the ability, that is what I would have posted in this space.

  8. Mike B.

    What about the 27 Club? After all, 7 raised to the 2nd power is 49.

  9. max

    Well Matt S., given that the question was “what do you get when you multiply seven by eight?” then 49 is potentially as relevant as 42, as I am sure there is someone out there who gets 49 when they multiply 7 by 8.

    4 + 9 (adding the digits) is 13, the number of people at the Last Supper.

  10. Tom Galli

    ’tis the age I’ve decided to remain at, just ten years older than Jack Benny’s long run at 39. A both good numbers in all respects. Well done!

  11. Bob

    I remember age 49. My body pretty much functioned the way it should. I had a job with an expense account. I was a respected in my church and community.

    Now, my age nears another magic number. At my age, any additional number is magic, anyway.

    Happy, happy, happy.

  12. V

    “I remember age 49. My body pretty much functioned the way it should. I had a job with an expense account. I was a respected in my church and community.”

    And then I met that stripper named Candy or Bambi or whatever her name was…

  13. Gary

    Nothing about the year of Jubilee? Well, you will be forgiven seven times seven times by your brother anyway.

  14. Briggs


    Coincidence? The Mega Million drawing for this day contained the numbers 9, 27, and…49! And so did the Powerball from two days before have 49!

  15. Can’t wait for your post on the number 69

  16. Gary

    In a cavern, in a canyon,
    Excavating for a mine
    Dwelt a miner forty niner,
    And his daughter Clementine

    Oh my darling, oh my darling,
    Oh my darling, Clementine!
    Thou art lost and gone forever
    Dreadful sorry, Clementine


    — Percy Montrose (1884), although it is sometimes credited to Barker Bradford

  17. Richard of NZ

    49 is also 42+7 which must mean that it is lucky to know the answer to life, the universe and everything.

  18. And belatedly, (as you tweeted), 49 is the numerical portion of the internet ‘handle’ chosen years ago by one of your longtime followers, 49erDweet. Gary nailed it re: the gold miner. Chose “49er” to identify myself with the gold mining country of California, and the rest of it was a nickname hung on me by my first father-in-law.

    Life is busy, Matt, but I do read you from time to time – and quote you on other sites much more often than you know. You still amaze and delight me,


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