Mathematician Heads of State?


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 )].

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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3 Responses to “Mathematician Heads of State?”

  1. heather360 Says:

    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 Heloise fame) with a minor in math. Wow — you really can do ANYTHING with math!

  2. 360 Says:

    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 famous mathematician who rose to a high political level, possibly head of state?

    My guess: Prob(answer to 2b = YES) << 1.

  3. TwoPi Says:

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

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