Dwight David Eisenhower, USMA 1915

14 October 1890 - 28 March 1969

    "In high school, plane geometry was an intellectual adventure, one that entranced me. After a few months, my teachers conducted an unusual experiment. The principal and my mathematics teacher called me to the office and told me that they were going to take away my textbook. Thereafter, I was to work out the geometry problems without the benefit of the book. They said that for the remaining months, unless the experiment was terminated by them, I would automatically receive an A-plus grade.
        "Strangely enough, I got along fairly well." [Eisenhower 1969, p. 7]

In his mathematics studies, cadet Eisenhower's modus operandi was borrowed from his plane geometry class back at Abilene High, where reasoning was emphasized. He was only a half-listener in integral calculus, relying on his mastery of probability to help him figure the odds of being called on in class at any given moment. Figuring incorrectly one day, he was called on to solve an extremely difficult problem for which he had not prepared. After fumbling initially, he was able to apply his own logical processes to arrive at the correct solution. This infuriated his instructor, who accused him of knowing the answer beforehand and faking the procedures to arrive at it. Fortunately for Eisenhower. an associate professor of mathematics happened to be monitoring the episode and was impressed with Ike's methodology, calling it "easier than we've been using . . ." and fit to be "incorporated in our procedures from now on."33 Ike's final report card termed his performance "very good," adding: ". . . should be assigned to an organization under a strict Commanding Officer." [This entire paragraph is quoted from Watershed at Leavenworth: Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Command and General Staff School, by Major Mark C. Bender. Footnote 33 cites Eisenhower, At Ease, 20.]

Morris Bishop, in his biography of Pascal, makes an even stronger claim: He says Eisenhower was told to "construct his own geometry."  [Story thanks to Jerry Lenz. I need to find the footnote that has this story, which is in my calendar.]
 The statue of Eisenhower at West Point was made by Robert Dean, USMA 1953. 

I think a strong case can be made for Eisenhower's impact on mathematics education in the US. For example, he signed the National Defense Educational Act in 1958. Look for some history of the impact of this act.



Personal note from Maj. D.J. MacLachlan, Eisenhower’s West Point math instructor. Personal corres. with Minnie Stewart, Eisenhower’s mathematics teacher at Abilene High School.  [Dwight D. Eisenhower Library, Abilene, Kansas. Dwight D. Eisenhower: Papers, Pre-Presidential, 1916-52]


Speaking before the United Nations General Assembly, Eisenhower said:

As I look into the future I see the emergence of modern Muslim States that would bring to this century contribution surpassing those we cannot forget from the past. We remember that Western arithmetic and algebra owe much to Muslim mathematicians and that much of the foundation of the world's medical science and astronomy was laid by Muslim scholars. Above all, we remember that three of the world's great religions were born in the Near East. ["Adress to the United Nations General Assembly," Arab World, V, No. 1-2 (January-February, 1959, p. 2; Quoted by Ali Abdullah Al-Daffa in The Muslim contribution to mathematics (1977), p. 98.]


Bishop, Morris, Pascal: The Life of a Genius, NY: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1936. [Rickey owns copy]

Arney, Chris, West Point's Scientific 200: Celebration of the Bicentennial. Biographies of 200 of West Point's Most Successful and Influential Mathematicians, Scientists, Engineers, and Technologists, 2002.

File created 13 October 1998. Revised 27 August 2009.