Saturday, February 4, 2012

This Day in History February 5, 1897

Well, this is an interesting one, and I will be the first to tell you that I do not completely understand it.  But here goes.

On this date in 1897, mathematics and geometry as we know it almost changed in the Indiana Senate.  Quite seriously, I have never known anything like this ever happened, but read on as I try to explain it to you.

Dr, Edwin J. Goodwin of Indiana thought he had figured out a way to square the circle.  This new discovery led to a bill being introduced to allow the school children of Indiana use this new information free of charge whereas the rest of the country would have to pay him a royalty.  Supposedly, Dr. Goodwin had proved that "pi" (you know, that number associated with the circle) was 3.2 instead of 3.14 etc.

Interestingly enough, this "Indiana Pi Bill" was passed 67 to 0 on this date in 1897.  Thankfully, Clarence Waldo, the head of Perdue University Mathematics department was there to "straighten" things out.  He spent the rest of the day educating the Senate about math and geometry, and the bill died on the Senate floor.

So we owe this man a debt of gratitude for straightening out the mistaken thinking of these senators and their bill.  I think it safe to say that if this had passed, it would have completely confused a generation of school and college students.  And it would have been proven wrong within a short period of time.

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