You are here

How George Washington Learned to be a Surveyor

  Fred Rickey
  6:30 PM - February 22, 2017

  MAA Carriage House
  1781 Church St. NW
  Washington, D.C. 20036



Abstract: Most of us are aware that our first president was a surveyor in his younger days, but how did he learn that lucrative trade? Fortunately we can give an informed answer to this question as he compiled two notebooks - cyphering books - as a teenager that show what he learned about geometry, decimal arithmetic, and surveying. Although available for decades this material has never been carefully studied. We shall present a sampling of the arithmetic and geometry that Washington studied and then concentrate on how surveying was done in seventeenth century Virginia. We will describe what the surveyor did in the field and how the final plats were prepared. This illustrated presentation will appeal to a wide audience.

Biography: Fred Rickey is a historian of mathematics who began his mathematical life as a logician. After 43 years of teaching at Bowling Green State University and the United States Military Academy, West Point, NY, he retired as he could not get any work done while working. Now, instead of grading calculus papers, he devotes his time to research on the history of mathematics.

His paper "Isaac Newton, Man, Myth, and Mathematics" received the George Polya Award for expository writing in mathematics. He received one of the first Haimo Awards from the MAA for distinguished university teaching. In 1994-1995 he was a Visiting Mathematician at MAA HQ where he built the first gopher, a precursor of the web, for the MAA. Also that year he wrote a successful NSF proposal for The Institute on the History of Mathematics and Its Use in Teaching (IHMT), which prepared several dozen college teachers to teach history of mathematics courses.

Needless to say, he delights in sharing his knowledge of the history of mathematics with all who are interested.