Adam Smith was born in Kirkcaldy, Fife, Scotland, in 1723 to Adam and Margaret Smith. He entered the University of Glasgow, Scotland, at the age of 14 where he was greatly influenced by Francis Hutcheson who held the Chair of Moral Philosophy. In 1744 , Adam won the Snell Exhibition to the University of Oxford, England, where he claimed he learned very little. He returned to Glasgow, being elected to the Chair of Logic at the University of Glasgow in 1751 and transferring to the Chair of Moral Philosophy the following year; his lectures covered the field of ethics, rhetoric, jurisprudence and political economy, or'police and revenue.' He held this position for 13 years, claiming them to be'by far the most useful and therefore as by far the happiest and most honourable period of my life.' Glasgow at this time was a thriving mercantile centre with the Tobacco Lords at the apex of its society and in whose clubs and coffee-houses he was able to cultivate the acquaintances of businessmen and test his ideas against practical knowledge.
Adam resigned his Chair in 1764 to become tutor to the Duke of Buccleuch on his Grand Tour, a much more lucrative post that gave him a position for life. The post allowed him to meet many of Europe's most notable people, including Voltaire.
He returned to Kirkcaldy in 1767 to concentrate on his writing. In 1776, he moved to London where he published his major work, The Wealth of Nations (1776) that was immediately recognised as one of the seminal works of European philosophy, establishing political economy as a subject of study in its own right and it remains an influential work still. However, Smith was first and foremost a moral philosopher who established his reputation with A Theory of Moral Sentiments in 1759, and an insistence on a framework of moral obligation underlined all his thinking.
In 1778 he was appointed Commissioner of Customs for Scotland based in Edinburgh and he was elected Rector of the University of Glasgow from 1787-1789. Despite being perfectly capable of running his own and University affairs, he was notoriously absent minded and inattentive to his surroundings, almost coming to a premature end for example, when showing a friend the operations of a tannery he fell into the tanning pit. He died in Edinburgh in July 1790 .
Carol Primrose, St Mungo's Bairns (Glasgow University Library, 1990)