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Mathematical Treasures - Legendre's Elements of Geometry

Frank J. Swetz and Victor J. Katz

Legendre's Elements of Geometry


In the year 1794, André Marie Legrendre (1752–1833) published his Eléments de géométrie. In its preface, Legendre says he tried to produce a geometry that will testify to the l’esprit of Euclid. The book became an immediate success in Europe and eventually went through 20 editions. The first American translation appeared in 1819, a work attributed to John Farrar (1779–1853), Hollis Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy (Science) at Harvard. This is the title page of Farrar’s translation of Legendre's Elements, the second edition (1825). Farrar was eventually associated with seven volumes of translated textbooks, known as the Cambridge Series of Mathematics. The style and format of these books transformed American mathematics teaching, and they were used in multiple colleges as well as the U.S. Military Academy at West Point before the textbook series established by Charles Davies, a West Point professor, became more popular.

Farrar pp. 106-107

Pages 106 and 107 of Legendre’s Elements of Geometry discuss the construction and properties of planes. Note the use of the symbol for line segment. This is one of the first applications of this symbol in an American textbook.

Index to Mathematical Treasures

Frank J. Swetz and Victor J. Katz, "Mathematical Treasures - Legendre's Elements of Geometry," Convergence (January 2011)

Mathematical Treasures from the Smith and Plimpton Collections at Columbia University