March 21, 1884–November 12, 1944
BY OSWALD VEBLEN
GEORGE DAVID BIRKHOFF was born at Overisel, Michigan, on the twenty-first of March, 1884. His ancestry was Dutch on both sides. His father, David Birkhoff, came from Holland in 1870, and during George David’s growing years was a physician in Chicago. Birkhoff studied at the Lewis Institute, Chicago, from 1896 to 1902, and at the University of Chicago for a year. After this he went to Harvard, where he received the Bachelor’s degree in 1905.
Beginning in the year 1900 there appeared in the problem department of the American Mathematical Monthly, edited by B.F.Finkel, a series of notes, solutions, and problems by H.S.Vandiver, of Bala, Pennsylvania. In 1901 Birkhoff, who had doubtless found the monthly in the old John Crerar Library, began exchanging letters about various questions in the theory of numbers with Vandiver, who was then nineteen years old. This correspondence resulted in the publication in 1904 of their joint paper in the Annals of Mathematics “On the integral devisors of an-bn.” So far as I know this was Birkhoff’s only publication in the theory of numbers,
Reprinted with permission from the Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society (Yearbook 1946, pp. 279–85).