Abraham de Moivre

Born: 26 May 1667 in Vitry (near Paris), France
Died: 27 Nov 1754 in London, England

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After spending five years at a Protestant academy at Sedan, De Moivre studied logic at Saumur from 1682 until 1684. He then went to Paris, studying at the Collège de Harcourt and taking private lessons in mathematics from Ozanam.

A French Protestant, de Moivre emigrated to England in 1685 following the revocation of the Edict of Nantes and the expulsion of the Huguenots. He became a private tutor of mathematics and hoped for a chair of mathematics, but this was not to be since foreigners were at a disadvantage. In 1697 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society.

In 1710 de Moivre was appointed to the Commission set up by the Royal Society to review the rival claims of Newton and Leibniz to be the discovers of the calculus. His appointment to this Commission was due to his friendship with Newton. The Royal Society knew the answer it wanted!

De Moivre pioneered the development of analytic geometry and the theory of probability. He published The Doctrine of Chance in 1718. The definition of statistical independence appears in this book together with many problems with dice and other games. He also investigated mortality statistics and the foundation of the theory of annuities.

In Miscellanea Analytica (1730) appears Stirling's formula (wrongly attributed to Stirling) which de Moivre used in 1733 to derive the normal curve as an approximation to the binomial. In the second edition of the book in 1738 de Moivre gives credit to Stirling for an improvement to the formula.

De Moivre is also remembered for his formula for

(cos x + i sin x)^n
which took trigonometry into analysis.

Despite de Moivre's scientific eminence his main income was by tutoring mathematics and he died in poverty. He, like Cardan, is famed for predicting the day of his own death. He found that he was sleeping 15 minutes longer each night and summing the arithmetic progression, calculated that he would die on the day that he slept for 24 hours. He was right!

References (14 books/articles)

A page from a work by de Moivre:

The title page of The Doctrine of Chances (1718).

References elsewhere in this archive:

Tell me about de Moivre's theorem

Tell me about Stirling's formula

Tell me about de Moivre and the frequency curve of the Normal distribution

Abraham de Moivre was elected to the Royal Society of London in 1697. You can see a history of the Royal Society and a list of the members among the mathematicians in our archive.

Other Web sites:

Rice University, USA

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JOC/EFR December 1996