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Rudolph Ernest Langer, 1949-1950 MAA President

Born: March 8, 1894
Died: March 11, 1968

Rudolph Ernest Langer was a mathematics professor and directed the Army Mathematics Research Center at the University of Wisconsin.

Presidency: 1949-1950

In June 1949, the MAA and the American Society for Engineering Education held a joint meeting. The 1949 summer meeting was held August 29-30 in conjunction with the meetings of the American Mathematical Society, the Institute of Mathematical Statistics, and the Econometric Society.

Langer's retiring presidential address, "The Things I Should Have Done, I Did Not Do," discussed "first, our elementary college mathematics curriculum under the impact of the widespread trend toward more general education at the expense of specialized subjects; second, our concerns and practices in the training of secondary school teachers; and third, our response to the unprecedented expansion of employment opportunity for mathematically trained personnel."

Education and Career

1922 Harvard University, Ph.D., advised by G.D. Birkhoff

Langer's mathematics research involved asymptotic solutions of differential equations and boundary value problems. He extended ideas from his advisor Birkhoff's thesis, "Asymptotic Properties of Certain Ordinary Differential Equations with Applications to Boundary Value and Expansion Problems."

Langer taught at Dartmouth College from 1922 to 1925. He taught at the University of Wisconsin from 1927 to 1964 and chaired the department from 1942 to 1952. For 15 years (1946-61), Langer, Bing, and MacDuffee were all on the Wisconsin faculty.

At the University of Wisconsin, Langer directed the Army Mathematics Research Center. On his retirement in 1964, the U.S. Army awarded him the Outstanding Civilian Service Medal. The citation notes,

Through Dr. Langer's outstanding initiative, leadership and resourcefulness, the Center was established as a unique functioning organization in minimal time. He was eminently successful in attracting and retaining distinguished scientists of the highest calibre to undertake research in mathematical problem areas of interest to the Army, and in developing a mathematics research program responsive to the future needs of the Army.

In 1941, Langer announced the initiation of the Herbert Ellsworth Slaught Memorial Papers in the American Mathematical Monthly. Langer authored the first Slaught Memorial Paper, "Fourier's Series: The Genesis and Evolution of a Theory," in 1947. About Fourier, he once said, "It was, no doubt, partially because of his very disregard for rigor that he was able to take conceptual steps which were inherently impossible to men of more critical genius."

In the sixth Slaught Memorial Paper, for Lester R. Ford's 70th birthday, he contributed an article on "An Excerpt from the Works of Euler."

R.H. Bing once held the Rudolph E. Langer Professorship of Mathematics at the University of Wisconsin.

External Resources

Records of editors, presidents, and secretaries from MAA headquarters, Rudolph E. Langer, 1938-1968 at the Archives of American Mathematics

Rudolph E. Langer Papers, 1928-1951

University of Wisconsin Math Department Faculty 1849-2010

The Mathematics Genealogy Project