Florian Cajori

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Florian Cajori

Florian Cajori (1859–1930) was an American professor of mathematics and physics. He was one of the most celebrated historians of mathematics in his day. Cajori's A History of Mathematics (1894) was the first popular presentation of the history of mathematics in the United States and his 1928–29 History of Mathematical Notations has been described as "unsurpassed."

See also: A History of Mathematics


  • The opinion is widely prevalent that even if the subjects are totally forgotten, a valuable mental discipline is acquired by the efforts made to master them. While the Conference admits that, considered in itself this discipline has a certain value, it feels that such a discipline is greatly inferior to that which may be gained by a different class of exercises, and bears the same relation to a really improving discipline that lifting exercises in an ill-ventilated room bear to games in the open air. The movements of a race horse afford a better model of improving exercise than those of the ox in a tread-mill.
  • My quotations from Newton suggest the motive which induced him to take a stand against the use of hypotheses, namely, the danger of becoming involved in disagreeable controversies. ...Newton could no more dispense with hypotheses in his own cogitations than an eagle can dispense with flight. Nor did Newton succeed in avoiding controversy.
    • Explanatory Appendix, Sir Isaac Newton's Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy and His System of the World (1934) Tr. Andrew Motte, p. 674

A History of Mathematics (1893)[edit]

  • The history of mathematics may be instructive as well as agreeable ; it may not only remind us of what we have, but may also teach us to increase our store. Says De Morgan, "The early history of the mind of men with regards to mathematics leads us to point out our own errors; and in this respect it is well to pay attention to the history of mathematics." It warns us against hasty conclusions; it points out the importance of a good notation upon the progress of the science; it discourages excessive specialization on the part of the investigator, by showing how apparently distinct branches have been found to possess unexpected connecting links; it saves the student from wasting time and energy upon problems which were, perhaps, solved long since; it discourages him from attacking an unsolved problem by the same method which has led other mathematicians to failure; it teaches that fortifications can be taken by other ways than by direct attack, that when repulsed from a direct assault it is well to reconnoitre and occupy the surrounding ground and to discover the secret paths by which the apparently unconquerable position can be taken.
  • The history of mathematics is important also as a valuable contribution to the history of civilization. Human progress is closely identified with scientific thought. Mathematical and physical researches are a reliable record of intellectual progress.
    • p. 4; Cited in: Moritz (1914, 90); Study and research in mathematics
  • It is a remarkable fact in the history of geometry, that the Elements of Euclid, written two thousand years ago, are still regarded by many as the best introduction to the mathematical sciences.
    • p. 30 Reported in Memorabilia mathematica or, The philomath's quotation-book by Robert Edouard Moritz. Published 1914.
  • Comparatively few of the propositions and proofs in the Elements are his [Euclid's] own discoveries. In fact, the proof of the "Theorem of Pythagoras" is the only one directly ascribed to him.
    • p. 30, Reported in Moritz (1914)
  • The Elements has been considered as offering models of scrupulously rigorous demonstrations. It is certainly true that in point of rigour it compares favourably with its modern rivals; but when examined in the light of strict mathematical logic, it has been pronounced by C.S. Peirce to be "riddled with fallacies." The results are correct only because the writer's experience keeps him on his guard.
    • p. 37. Reported in Moritz (1914)
  • The miraculous powers of modern calculation are due to three inventions : the Arabic Notation, Decimal Fractions and Logarithms.
    • p. 161; Cited in: Moritz (1914, 263); Arithmetics
  • Fermat died with the belief that he had found a long-sought-for law of prime numbers in the formula 2 2 " 1 + 1 = a prime, but he admitted that he was unable to prove it rigorously. The law is not true, as was pointed out by Euler in the example 22 5 + 1 = 4,294,967,297 = 6,700,417 times 641. The American lightning calculator Zerah Colburn, when a boy, readily found the factors but was unable to explain the method by which he made his marvellous mental computation.
    • p. 180; Cited in: Moritz (1914, 157); Persons and anecdotes.
  • In 1735 the solving of an astronomical problem, proposed by the Academy, for which several eminent mathematicians had demanded several months' time, was achieved in three days by Euler with aid of improved methods of his own... With still superior methods this same problem was solved by the illustrious Gauss in one hour.
    • p. 248; As cited in: Moritz (1914, 155); Persons and anecdotes.
  • Most of his [Euler's] memoirs are contained in the transactions of the Academy of Sciences at St. Petersburg, and in those of the Academy at Berlin. From 1728 to 1783 a large portion of the Petropolitan transactions were filled by his writings. He had engaged to furnish the Petersburg Academy with memoirs in sufficient number to enrich its acts for twenty years a promise more than fulfilled, for down to 1818 [Euler died in 1793] the volumes usually contained one or more papers of his. It has been said that an edition of Euler's complete works would fill 16,000 quarto pages.
    • pp. 253-254; Cited in: Moritz (1914, 155); Persons and anecdotes.
  • J. J. Sylvester was an enthusiastic supporter of reform [in the teaching of geometry]. The difference in attitude on this question between the two foremost British mathematicians, J. J. Sylvester, the algebraist, and Arthur Cayley, the algebraist and geometer, was grotesque. Sylvester wished to bury Euclid "deeper than e'er plummet sounded" out of the schoolboy's reach; Cayley, an ardent admirer of Euclid, desired the retention of Simson's Euclid. When reminded that this treatise was a mixture of Euclid and Simson, Cayley suggested striking out Simson's additions and keeping strictly to the original treatise.
    • p. 285; Cited in: Moritz (1914, 148); Persons and anecdotes

Quotes about Cajori[edit]

  • What is perhaps the greatest blow that has ever come to the student body of Colorado College came last Friday when it was announced that Dean Florian Cajori, for about thirty years the best-known and best-liked professor in the College, had resigned and will not be back with us next year. It was not only on account of the value of his service as an instructor that the students felt such a sense of loss at the announcement, but more on account of the friendship and intimate relationship which he has shown to us. "Caj"… has been closer to this student body than any other one man. It was usually "Caj" who made the speech at the Barbecue, it was "Caj" who talked upcoming events in chapel, it was "Caj" who was always out there at the picnic or the Festival or the ball game. No form of student activity has seemed entirely complete unless our "Caj" has been there or has had something to do with it.
    • The Tiger student newspaper, May 14, 1918 editorial, Colorado College
  • They [the students] looked upon "Caj" as one of their best friends in all the College, and thought of him as the one responsible for their later success. He has had a personal appeal to a great many students... It was the appeal of the one with a human interest in what somebody else is doing, the appeal of the true friend and the hearty well-wisher. It was the appeal of "Caj".
    • The Tiger student newspaper, May 14, 1918 editorial, Colorado College
  • As a mathematician Dean Cajori has achieved a name which very few in this world can equal, a name which is respected all over the globe. His text books and his writings have been published all over the world. We are proud of all the achievements of our "Caj", of course, but we are especially proud of what he has done for us here, and it is for this reason that we shall always hold him in our memory. As a friend and as an instructor he has been more to us than we can ever measure, and we shall always look back upon the days when we had "Caj".
    • The Tiger student newspaper, May 14, 1918 editorial, Colorado College

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