By now it's a well-established truth that Hamilton is a masterpiece, and its creator Lin-Manuel Miranda a once-in-a-generation talent. A record 16 Tony nominations, 11 Tony awards, and a freestyle session with President Obama certainly back that up, as do aggressive ticket sales that sometimes push prices above $800 per seat. So it's no surprise that everyone wants to know how the idea for such greatness first came to be, and thanks to a little digging by Zach Schonfeld of Newsweek, it appears that the seed may have been planted 20 years ago by Miranda's 11th-grade Social Studies teacher.
Irv Steinfink had already been teaching at Hunter College High School in Manhattan for more than 25 years when Miranda showed up in his class in the fall of 1996 as a "pretty quiet" teenager. As part of the curriculum, each student chose a research paper to work on for the semester on any topic they desired. When Steinfink asked them to share one by one what they settled on, the now-prolific writer-performer was stumped, so like a helpful teacher, Steinfink gave him a little inspiration.
"When I came to Lin, he hadn't yet a clue, so I told him to think for a while and come to me later," he said. "He approached me at my desk and still was blank, so I recommended him the Burr-Hamilton duel. He lit up and agreed and, in the end, submitted a wonderful term paper, A-plus."
While Ron Chernow's Hamilton biography apparently served as inspiration for the musical, Steinfink's little nudge from 20 years back suggests the ideas have been floating around in Miranda's head for quite some time. For his part, though, the now-retired teacher is very humble about possibly providing the initial spark that led to a massively successful Broadway musical.
"Not knowing anything further from Lin, imagine my surprise hearing about Lin's great play some years later," he explained. And while Steinfink has exchanged some Facebook messages with his former student, he only ended up seeing the show when his wife bought him a ticket as a Christmas present. No special treatment whatsoever.