This is another urban legend
that pops up in the usual places: that Indiana
once voted to set pi
to exactly three.
But if you read the exact text you'll find it says no such thing. In fact, unless you're a mathematician, you'll read the bill and think, "What the fuck? This is incomprehensible gibberish."
Okay, here's what a qualified expert mathematician would say if they read it: "What the fuck? This is incomprehensible gibberish." — The bill makes not a syllable of sense from beginning to end. It doesn't mention pi as such. It seems to be talking about some crank bee-in-a-bonnet like squaring the circle, but quite frankly, who cares? It's rubbish. It just doesn't make any sense. Really.
People have gone through it on the assumption that the author, an amateur called Dr Edwin J. Goodwin M.D., of Solitude, Indiana, had something in mind. They have teased out his sentences and tried not to laugh too much and come up with something vaguely coherent, one of the consequences of which is that pi would have to equal 3 or 3.2 or something (you can't actually tell!). He passed it on to his congressman, who laid it before the house.
The Lower House hadn't the slightest idea what it meant. Understandably enough. I haven't. No mathematician has. It's just mad rubbish, it isn't even wrong. But they read the bit at the front that said they could publish some discovery free in Indiana. "Free". "No money". "We'll vote for that." It was passed on 5 February 1897. Professor Waldo was listening, and couldn't actually jump down onto the floor of the House shouting "you're all a bunch of useless loonies", but by the time it got to the Upper House on 11 February, he had his say, and it had been publicly ridiculed in newspapers, and all the Senators made fun of it, and postponed it indefinitely.
Details (including a breakdown of it paragraph by paragraph in an attempt to extract sense) at
In 1998 an updated version of this set in present-day Alabama was circulated as an April Fool's Day joke (not very original, since the idea had really happened a hundred years before). Text and circumstances at
* 2004 *cries* urbanlegends.com is gone: where is all that good information now?
A Bill for an act introducing a new mathematical truth and offered as a contribution to education to be used only by the State of Indiana free of cost by paying any royalties whatever on the same, provided it is accepted and adopted by the official action of the Legislature of 1897.
Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Indiana: It has been found that a circular area is to the square on a line equal to the quadrant of the circumference, as the area of an equilateral rectangle is to the square on one side. The diameter employed as the linear unit according to the present rule in computing the circle's area is entirely wrong, as it represents the circle's area one and one-fifth times the area of a square whose perimeter is equal to the circumference of the circle. This is because one fifth of the diameter fails to be represented four times in the circle's circumference. For example: if we multiply the perimeter of a square by one-fourth of any line one-fifth greater than one side, we can in like manner make the square's area to appear one-fifth greater than the fact, as is done by taking the diameter for the linear unit instead of the quadrant of the circle's circumference.
It is impossible to compute the area of a circle on the diameter as the linear unit without trespassing upon the area outside of the circle to the extent of including one-fifth more area than is contained within the circle's circumference, because the square on the diameter produces the side of a square which equals nine when the arc of ninety degrees equals eight. By taking the quadrant of the circle's circumference for the linear unit, we fulfill the requirements of both quadrature and rectification of the circle's circumference. Furthermore, it has revealed the ratio of the chord and arc of ninety degrees, which is as seven to eight, and also the ratio of the diagonal and one side of a square which is as ten to seven, disclosing the fourth important fact, that the ratio of the diameter and circumference is as five-fourths to four; and because of these facts and the further fact that the rule in present use fails to work both ways mathematically, it should be discarded as wholly wanting and misleading in its practical applications.
In further proof of the value of the author's proposed contribution to education and offered as a gift to the State of Indiana, is the fact of his solutions of the trisection of the angle, duplication of the cube and quadrature of the circle having been already accepted as contributions to science by the American Mathematical Monthly, the leading exponent of mathematical thought in this country. And be it remembered that these noted problems had been long since given up by scientific bodies as insolvable mysteries and above man's ability to comprehend.