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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

This Day in Science History - February 5 - Indiana Pi Law

On February 5, 1897, the Indiana General Assembly voted unanimously to pass a bill set the value of π equal to 3.2. The bill actually dealt with issues behind an old geometrical puzzle involving squaring a circle. Is it possible to create a square with the same area as a circle in finite steps using only a compass and straightedge.

An Indiana amateur mathematician named Edwin Goodwin believed he had discovered the elusive solution to this problem. He approached his state representative, Taylor Record with an idea that would gain him recognition for his achievement, and help his home state out in the process. Record introduced bill.
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.
If Indiana would accept the validity of his work, Goodwin would allow the state to use his discovery in school textbooks free of charge, while the rest of the country would have to pay a royalty. The bill contained various mathematical steps to square the circle where one step involved the value of the ratio of the diameter and circumference (the definition of π) is as five-fourths to four, or 3.2.

Fortunately, this vote took place the same day the head of Perdue University's Mathematics Department, Clarence Waldo was at the statehouse securing funds for the University's budget. When he heard the assembly was discussing mathematics, he listened in and was amazed. He spent the rest of the day educating Indiana senators on geometry and properties of transcendental numbers. His lessons were effective enough that the bill died on the Senate floor on February 11.

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