Gilbert Ames Bliss

Born: 9 May 1876 in Chicago, Illinois, USA
Died: 8 May 1951 in Harvey, Illinois, USA

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Gilbert Bliss was one of the first American mathematicians to complete his studies in the United States before travelling to Europe. He entered the University of Chicago in 1893 and received his B.S. is 1897. He then began his graduate studies at Chicago in mathematical astronomy and his first publication was in that field. However mathematics was his real love and, in 1898, he began his doctoral studies working on the calculus of variations.

His interest in the calculus of variations came through two sources, firstly from lecture notes of Weierstrass's 1879 course which he had a copy, and secondly from the inspiring lectures by Bolza which Bliss attended. Bliss received his doctorate in 1900, then was appointed as an instructor at the University of Minnesota in 1900. He left Minnesota in 1902 to spend a year in Göttingen where he interacted with Klein, Hilbert, Minkowski, Zermelo, Schmidt, Max Abraham and Carathéodory. His fellow American Max Mason was a doctoral student at Göttingen during the year Bliss spent there.

Returning to the United States, Bliss was appointed to the University of Chicago in 1903, then in 1904 he was appointed as an assistant professor at the University of Missouri. At Missouri his head of Department was Hedrick but after a year he was offered a post at Princeton which he accepted, remaining there until 1908. At Princeton Bliss joined a strong group of young mathematicians including Eisenhart, Veblen, and Robert Moore. Bliss was appointed to Chicago on the death of Maschke and he remained at Chicago until he retired.

Bliss worked on ballistics during World War I and designed new firing tables for artillery. His book Mathematics for Exterior Ballistics (1944) was based on this work. He lectured on navigation to about 100 students at the University of Chicago as part of the war effort. Also in 1918 he joined Veblen in the Range Firing Section at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, a military weapons testing site established in 1917 in Harford county northeastern Maryland. There he very effectively applied methods from the calculus of variations to solve problems relating to correcting missile trajectories for the effects of wind, changes in air density, rotation of the Earth and other perturbations.

Bliss's main work was on the calculus of variations and he produced a major book, Lectures on the Calculus of Variations , on the topic in 1946. As a consequence of Bliss's results a substantial simplification of the transformation theories of Clebsch and Weierstrass was achieved. Bliss also studied singularities of real transformations in the plane.

During the last 50 years of his life Bliss played a major role in mathematics in the United States. He was deeply involved in the American Mathematical Society being the Colloquium Lecturer in 1909, the Vice President in 1911 and its President from 1921 to 1922. He received many awards for his work including the first Chauvenet Prize from the Mathematical Association of America for his article on Algebraic functions and their divisors. Bliss's interests outside mathematics are described in [3]:-

In order to earn money necessary for his college expenses he became a member of a student professional mandolin quartet. He has always been interested in sport and beginning with bicycle racing in student days he has successively taken up tennis, racquets, and golf.

References (6 books/articles)

References elsewhere in this archive:

G A Bliss was the President of the American Mathematical Society in 1921 - 1922. You can see a history of the AMS and a list of AMS presidents
He was the American Mathematical Society Colloquium Lecturer in 1909. You can see a history of the AMS Colloquium and a list of the lecturers.

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JOC/EFR October 1997