Pioneers in Tech: George Boole, Mathematician AND Innovator
You’ve heard of Boolean algebra and Boolean logic, and you know the Boolean system forms the basis for the modern digital computer. But you probably don’t know much about George Boole, the man himself, described as “one of the great unsung architects of today’s world” in the foreword to Des McHale’s biography The Life and Work of George Boole: A Prelude to the Digital Age. Let’s dive into this month’s edition of Pioneers in Tech.
Born Nov. 2, 1815, in Lincoln, England, Boole received little formal education, primarily teaching himself mathematics. At age 16, he became his family’s breadwinner, teaching and reading mathematics journals in his spare time. In 1841, he began submitting his own papers to the Cambridge Mathematical Journal on differential equations, and in 1844 the Royal Society awarded Boole its first gold medal for mathematics recognizing a paper in which he described how algebra and calculus could be combined. Despite his lack of formal education, Boole became a professor of mathematics at Queen’s College, County Cork, in Ireland.
But Boole wasn’t solely interested in math. In 1855, he married Mary Everest (niece of George Everest, for whom the mount was named). The new Mrs. Boole was a mathematician in her own right—and one of their five daughters, Alicia, is well known for her own discoveries in Euclidean geometry.
Unfortunately, Boole died from pneumonia on Dec. 8, 1864, at age 50. A couple of weeks prior, he had walked three miles in a rainstorm from his home to the college. It is thought that his wife’s interest in homeopathic remedies may have contributed to his inability to recover.
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