Person: Bowditch, Nathaniel
Nathaniel Bowditch was an American mathematician who published works on navigation and astronomy.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- After a few years, when Nathaniel was seven years old, they returned to Salem.
- In 1790 Bowditch, aged seventeen by this time, changed his employers and began working for the shop of Samuel C Ward.
- Although Bowditch was working as a clerk, he was educating himself throughout this period.
- Bowditch's scientific career was largely one of self-education; the United States of his day afforded very little opportunity for research in astronomy and mathematical physics.
- There was one way in which Bowditch was lucky.
- A privateer from Salem, that is a sailor licensed to attack enemy shipping, had intercepted a ship carrying Kirwan's library between Ireland and England and having captured it brought Kirwan's library back to Salem where it was available and used by Bowditch from June 1791.
- Bowditch had begun to learn algebra in 1787 and two years later he began to study the differential and integral calculus.
- Later Bowditch learnt other languages in order to study mathematics in these languages; in particular he learnt French in 1792.
- Between 1795 and 1799 Bowditch made four sea voyages on merchant ships, and in 1802 he was in command of a merchant ship of which he was also a joint owner.
- This was not a period when Bowditch put his studies to one side, on the contrary there was much time at sea for him to carry on his studies and he perfected his French at this time.
- By June 1806 Bowditch had read the first four of Laplace's five volumes (the fifth volume was not published by Laplace until 1825).
- Bowditch was now coming up in the world and he gave up his career as a sailor in 1804 to move into the business world.
- During the years of his presidency of this Company Bowditch undertook mathematical and astronomical investigations which gave him a high reputation in the academic world.
- Bowditch loved to carry out complex mathematical computations and the task of checking and correcting Moore's work was one he greatly enjoyed.
- Bowditch had already received high recognition for his academic contributions, including election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1799.
- Harvard University was not the only one to offer Bowditch a chair.
- However, Bowditch had a salary from the Essex Fire and Marine Insurance Company which was 50% higher than the $2,000 which Virginia offered him.
- Bowditch refused all the chairs of mathematics he was offered.
- Bowditch's translation of the first four volumes of Laplace's Traité de mécanique céleste was completed by 1818 but he would not publish it for many years.
- Almost certainly the cost of publication caused the delay, but Bowditch did not just put the work on one side after 1818 but continued to improve it over the succeeding years.
- Bowditch was helped by Benjamin Peirce in this project and his commentaries doubled the length of the book.
- By this time Bowditch had a high international reputation for he had published articles in British and Continental journals as well as in American ones.
- In 1823 Bowditch left the Essex Fire and Marine Insurance Company in Salem and became an actuary in the Massachusetts Hospital Life Insurance Company.
- The memoir on the life of Bowditch, which originally appeared in Volume IV, has been transferred to Volume I.
- We should note that the memoir on the life of Bowditch originally appeared in Volume IV since this volume was not published until 1839, the year after Bowditch died.
- It constitutes the fifth volume of a set, the first four of which are Nathaniel Bowditch's English translation of "Traité de mécanique céleste".
- Although Bowditch did not make a translation of this fifth volume, he did make use of relevant portions of this volume in his running commentary in each of the four translated volumes.
- Not only did it allow the poorly trained professors of mathematics in American colleges to explore the wonders of French celestial mechanics, but it also became an essential part of the education of some of Bowditch's successors in the field.
Born 26 March 1773, Salem, Massachusetts, USA. Died 16 March 1838, Boston, USA.
View full biography at MacTutor
Tags relevant for this person:
Astronomy, Origin Usa
Thank you to the contributors under CC BY-SA 4.0!
Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive