James A. Garfield, the 20th President of the United States, is perhaps best known (at least among math teachers) for having devised a novel proof of the Pythagorean Theorem. He published the proof in 1876, while a member of congress, in the New England Journal of Education [ Garfield, J. A. “Pons Asinorum.” *New England J. Educ.* **3**, 161, 1876. (citation from mathworld.wolfram.com )].

A request, and an open question:

1. Request: If you have access to Garfield’s original article, I’d love to get a paper copy or pdf! Or a hyperlink! Or….

2. Question: Has there been any head-of-state who was by training a mathematician? Which mathematician has risen closest to playing the role of head-of-state of their homeland? [I have a candidate: Isaac Newton, as an MP, and as Master of the Mint in his later years. But I suspect we can do better than that.]

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Tags: Garfield, Heads of State

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November 4, 2007 at 8:02 pm |

The site Famous Mathematics Majors, put together by the Rose-Hulman Math Club, lists some former heads of state. My favorites in their list are Art Garfunkel with an MA in math and Heloise (of

Hints from Heloisefame) with a minor in math. Wow — you really can do ANYTHING with math!November 4, 2007 at 11:06 pm |

I think #2 is really two questions in one:

2a. Is there a (possibly famous) head of state who is a mathematician? (I wonder if it means anything that the Rose-Hulman site sometimes says “math major”, sometimes “studied math”, and sometimes gives a specific degree. What qualifies someone as a mathematician then?)

2b. Is there a

famousmathematician who rose to a high political level, possibly head of state?My guess: Prob(answer to 2b = YES) << 1.

November 5, 2007 at 10:23 am |

I just remembered one: Gerbert d’Aurillac (940-1003), who upon election took the name Pope Sylvester II. (See http://www.voskrese.info/spl/Xsylvester2.html for scant details and some valuable references, including to a College Math Journal article from 2005.)