George Boole (born 2 November 1815, died 8 December 1864)

George Boole is one of the best known and important English mathematicians of the 19th century. His work in algebra and logic led to the development first of binary (two-valued) algebra and then to the more general Boolean algebra. This is applicable today, among other things, in the design of digital circuitry. The watershed paper on Boolean algebra was An investigation into the Laws of Thought, on Which are founded the Mathematical Theories of Logic and Probabilities.

Boole was born to working-class parents in Lincolnshire, England. His father was a shoemaker and tinkerer who enjoyed mathematics, puzzles, and learning. Inspired by such a role model, Boole began teaching himself languages and mathematics at a young age, and by age fifteen was supporting his family as an assistant school teacher. (His father’s shoemaking business had failed because of a tendency to overextend himself in volunteer activities.) A common story told of Boole is one that reflects well on his abilities: at age twelve he translated a poem by Horace from Latin, which his father had published in the local paper. A scholar in the community disputed that the translation was George’s, declaring that it must have been plagiarized as no one that young would have such skill.

At sixteen or seventeen Boole began studying at a local college, though not in pursuit of a degree, while still working as an assistant schoolmaster. Buoyed by the support of one of his professors, he began making notes and ideas toward what would later become his algebra. When his school forced him to quit teaching or convert to Methodism, he started his own modestly successful school.

In 1849, when England created a series of Queen’s Colleges in Ireland, Boole applied to the one being established in Cork. He was accepted as the mathematics department chair and became Dean of sciences in 1851. In 1857 he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society. He continued to teach at Cork until his death of pneumonia in 1864.

In 1855 he married Mary Everest, niece of the famed explorer. She herself was keenly interested in science and mathematics and attended some of George’s lectures, until community derision sent her home again. They had five daughters.

In 1967 a moon crater was named after him.

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