Brief History--The First 150 Years
by Wilfred Kaplan
A Talk at the
Dedication of East Hall on Oct. 17, 1997
is an overview of the story
of the Mathematics Department
in Ann Arbor. I provide some "snapshots."
September 25, 1841. University first offers classes.
There are seven students and two professors, Reverend George P.
Williams teaching mathematics and science, Reverend Joseph Whiting
teaching Greek and Latin.
1854. There are sixty-three freshmen. Curriculum
covers algebra, geometry (Legendre), trigonometry, analytic geometry
1863. Professor Edward Olney and an instructor
do the teaching.
1877. There is a staff of five. Curriculum expands
slightly, with encouragement to those who wish to study topics such
as quaternions, calculus of variations, calculus of finite differences.
1881. A complete set of Crelle's Journal is donated
to the tiny University Library.
1887. There are courses on projective geometry
and theory of functions, including elliptic functions.
1888. Alexander Ziwet and Frank N. Cole join the
department. Ziwet remained until 1925 and was a major influence
through his courses, donation of many books to the library and a
generous bequest, which funds the Ziwet lectures. Cole left in 1895.
While at Michigan, he wrote papers on group theory and had as a
student and colleague G. A. Miller, who published many papers on
group theory. Both Ziwet and Cole were much involved with formation
of the American Mathematical Society (AMS), of which Cole was secretary
from 1896 to 1920. The department's Mathematics Club began before
1891 in Ziwet's parlor.
1895. James W. Glover joins the department, remaining
until 1937. He developed a strong program in actuarial mathematics.
He served as chair from 1926 until 1934.
1900. Walter B. Ford joins the department. He wrote
on asymptotic series and summability theory, wrote textbooks and
strengthened the curriculum. He was active in the AMS and the Mathematical
Association of America (MAA), of which he was President in 1927-1928.
He became very wealthy through investments and made gifts to the
MAA; his son later gave a large sum to the MAA to create the Walter
B. Ford Lecture Fund.
1901. Beginning of a separation of mathematics
instruction for engineering students, with Alexander Ziwet in charge.
This lasted until 1928 and led to mathematics office in successive
1908. The department has grown to twenty. The curriculum
includes Fourier series and spherical harmonics, ordinary and partial
differential equations, theory of substitutions, theory of numbers,
theory of invariants, potential theory, courses for teachers.
1909. Theophil H. Hildebrandt joins the department,
to remain until 1957, serving as chair from 1934 to 1957. He was
a student of E. H. Moore in Chicago and did important work in functional
analysis and integration theory. In 1923 he gave the first general
proof of the principle of uniform boundedness for Banach spaces
and in 1928 he published a basic paper on the spectral theory of
compact operators. He was the first recipient of the Chauvenet Prize
of the MAA and was President of the AMS in 1945-1946. He is honored
by the T. H. Hildebrandt Assistant Professorships in the department.
1911. First Ph. D. granted in the department. The
recipient was W. O. Mendenhall, who wrote on divergent series under
Ford. By 1941, ninety Ph. D.'s had been granted and since then an
average of about 10 a year have received the degree.
1916. Harry Carver joins the department, to remain
until 1961. He had a major influence on the field of statistics;
he personally started the Annals of Mathematical Statistics and
had a leading part in the founding of the Institute of Mathematical
1920. The curriculum expands to include courses
in applied mathematics: vector analysis, hydrodynamics, elasticity,
celestial mechanics; also courses in infinite series and products,
divergent series, history of mathematics, graphical methods.
1922. Ruel V. Churchill joins the department, to
remain until 1966. He did much for the applied mathematics program
and had wide influence through his books on applied analysis.
George Y. Rainich and Raymond
L. Wilder join the department,
to remain until 1956 and
1968 respectively. Both did
much to strengthen the department
in many ways: in particular,
by introduction of more seminars
and colloquia. Rainich wrote
on relativity theory and
differential geometry, Wilder
was an outstanding topologist,
author of "Topology of Manifolds" (AMS Colloquium Publication),
had many Ph. D. students. He was President of the AMS in 1955-1956
and of the MAA in 1965-1966. Rainich ran an "orientation seminar" for
graduate students and thereby
encouraged many to follow
fruitful careers in mathematics.
Wilder was active in at least
one `secret' group organized
to discuss current research.
He and W. L. Ayres, who was
in the department from 1929
to 1941, ran a 2-week Topology
Congress in June of 1940,
which led to an important
publication (it was this
Congress which brought me
to Ann Arbor--I had no job
at the time and was offered
one by Hildebrandt during
the Congress, at which I
had presented a paper.)
1930-1940. The following entered the department:
Robert C. F. Bartels in applied mathematics, who later became the
first director of the University's Computing Center; Herman H. Goldstine,
in functional analysis, who later worked with von Neumann in developing
the digital computer; Sumner B. Myers, in differential geometry
and functional analysis; Cecil J. Nesbitt in algebra and actuarial
mathematics (a field in which he had major influence), Robert M.
Thrall in algebra.
1940-1945. The years of World War II had a major
impact on the University. Enrollments were greatly reduced and some
faculty took leave for military research. There were some military
training programs on campus. (We taught some V-12 Navy students
and some Air Force officers preparing to be meteorologists; the
latter program is reported to have trained some 10,000 officers,
when at most 1000 were needed, all because of a misplaced 0.) Several
persons joined the department: George E. Hay in applied mathematics,
who later became chair in 1957-1967; Erich Rothe, in functional
analysis; Samuel Eilenberg and Norman Steenrod, who made major contributions
In 1940 there were 35 staff members. The number
increased to 84 in 1965 and decreased soon thereafter because of
transfer of some staff to computer science and formation of a separate
Statistics Department in 1969.
1945-1950. Richard Brauer in algebra, William J.
LeVeque in number theory, George Piranian and Maxwell Reade in complex
analysis, Phillip Jones in history of mathematics and Hans Samelson,
in topology and geometry, enter the department. LeVeque was chair
from 1967 to 1970.
Fred Gehring, in complex
analysis, Lamberto Cesari,
in calculus of variations,
Roger C. Lyndon, in algebra,
join the department. In 1952
the Michigan Mathematical
Journal is initiated, under
the leadership of Rainich,
who became excited about "desktop publishing". In 1953 the department sponsors a 2-week conference
on complex analysis, attended by major figures in this field and
a publication results. H. Chandler Davis, a member of the department,
is forced to leave in 1955 because of refusal to answer questions
of a Congressional subcommittee on "un-American" activities.
(The University is subsequently
censured by AAUP for this
action, and the whole episode
is recalled annually at the
Senate Lecture on Academic
and Intellectual Freedom.)
1960-1991. A number of distinguished mathematicians
(too many to name) join the department. There are many special conferences
and invited lectures. Digital computing affects courses, research,
departmental operations. The Engineering College moves to North
Campus, increasing the difficulty in coordination of instruction
with the department.
Departmental Buildings from 1940 on. In 1940 there
were math. faculty offices in Angell Hall and a few in West Engineering
Building (now West Hall), an old East Hall (an old schoolhouse,
which stood just north of present East Hall), and East Engineering
Building (now East Hall). The desire to unite the department led
to creation of building committees. I served on one in the 1960's.
Encouragement by the University administration led our committee
to working with the University architect to develop detailed plans.
About 1965 the Michigan Legislature passed a bill requiring approval
of such plans and of the architect chosen by a Legislative Committee.
President Hatcher resisted this action as a violation of autonomy
granted to the University in the Michigan Constitution and a lawsuit
was filed. The Legislature responded by denying building funds to
the University. Thus our projected new mathematics building was
cancelled. Eventually President Fleming saw the light and told the
Legislature that the University would accept their requirements
and, since then, the funds have flowed (as is evident to all).