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Florian Cajori, 1917 MAA President

Born: February 28, 1859, St. Aignan (near Thusis), Graubünden, Switzerland
Died: August 14, 1930, Berkeley, California

Florian Cajori was a professor of mathematics, applied mathematics, physics, and history of mathematics.

Presidency: 1917

As president, Cajori selected five professors - E.R. Hedrick, H.E. Slaught, D.E. Smith, R.C. Archibald, and H.L. Rietz - to meet as the Committee on a Mathematical Dictionary and consider the possibility of publishing a mathematical dictionary.

Education and Career

1876-78 State Normal School in Whitewater, Wisconsin
1883 University of Wisconsin, B.S.
1884-85 The Johns Hopkins University
1886 University of Wisconsin, M.S.
1894 Tulane University, Ph.D.

Cajori was appointed assistant professor of applied mathematics at Tulane before receiving his master's degree. He joined the Tulane faculty in 1887, but he left within a few years upon developing tuberculosis. As a Colorado College professor of physics (1889-98), Cajori took the first X-ray photographs in the West and was awarded a Ph.D. from Tulane with a dissertation on "Semi-Convergent Series."

Cajori was a professor of mathematics and head of that department from 1898 to 1918. In 1903, he founded and became dean of the School of Engineering, a position which he also held until 1918. When in 1918 he announced that he was leaving Colorado College for the the University of California at Berkeley, an editorial in the student newspaper called him "the best-known and best-liked professor in the College" and "closer to this student body than any other one man." The offer at Berkeley was for a history of mathematics chair - the first such position in the United States - that had been created especially for Cajori.

Cajori is best known for launching the history of mathematics as an academic discipline in the United States. He wrote about twelve books on the subject, notably A History of Mathematics (1894) and A History of Mathematical Notations (1928-29).

He also wrote two mathematical history series for the American Mathematical Monthly: "History of the Exponential and Logarithmic Concepts" (1913) and "History of Zeno's Arguments on Motion: Phases in the Development of the Theory of Limits" (1915). During this transitional period for the Monthly, these series were among the most touted features of the journal. He contributed many additional articles to the Monthly on the histories of such topics as the symbol for zero (1903), the slide rule (1908), the Newton-Raphson method of approximation (1911), the name "mathematical induction" (1918), and partial differential equations (1928), to name just a few.

Colorado College awards the Cajori Prize for outstanding achievement in mathematics.

Cajori was a charter member of the MAA and was elected to the first MAA executive council at the founding meeting in December 1915.

External Resources

MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive biography

American Mathematical Monthly obituary

Records of editors, presidents, and secretaries from MAA headquarters, Florian Cajori, offprint of tribute by E.W. Schreiber at the Archives of American Mathematics

Florian Cajori papers, 1908-1928

Cajori website at Colorado College

"Florian Cajori and the Golden Age of Colorado College: A 140th Birthday Tribute"

Colorado College Photo File subject index, Biography-Cajori, Florian

The Mathematics Genealogy Project