Henry Burchard Fine

Born: 14 Sept 1858 in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania , USA
Died: 22 Dec 1928 in Princeton, New Jersey, USA

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Henry Fine received private coaching before entering the College of New Jersey in 1876, almost exactly 100 years after it was founded. The College of New Jersey's name was changed to Princeton University in 1896. Fine entered the College with the intention of studying classics and he began to study these subjects as well as Sanskritt. However, at Princeton he came across Halsted who had studied under Sylvester at Johns Hopkins University and spent the years 1878 to 1881 as an instructor in postgraduate mathematics at Princeton. Halsted inspired Fine to turn towards mathematics.

After receiving his A.B. in 1880, Fine was appointed a fellow in experimental science at Princeton but, never happy with experimental work, he happily changed to be a tutor in mathematics in 1881. Fine then, as was the custom of the day, decided to study in Germany. He travelled to Leipzig in 1884 and there attended lectures by Klein, Carl Neumann and others. He worked for his doctorate on a topic suggested by Study, and approved by Klein, and the degree was awarded for the dissertation On the singularities of curves of double curvature in May 1885.

Fine spent the summer of 1885 in Berlin attending Kronecker's lectures on eliminants which made a strong impression on him. Returning to the United States from Berlin, he was appointed assistant professor at Princeton. Despite great promise as a research mathematician, Fine moved into other areas. As Archibald writes in [1]:-

... Fine published a few research papers (1887-1890), and another of some importance as late as 1916. But his time was mainly devoted to teaching, administration, and the logical exposition of elementary mathematics.
Among the elementary texts he wrote are Number system of algebra treated theoretically and historically (1891), A college algebra (1905) and Calculus (1927).

Fine's most important contributions were to the American Mathematical Society and to Princeton University. He served the American Mathematical Society as vice-president 1992-93 and as president 1911-12. He chaired the committee set up in 1925 to obtain funds for research in the sciences at Princeton. Largely due to his efforts three million dollars were raised by 1928.

His other interests are described in [1]:-

In early days Fine played the flute in the college orchestra ... His knowledge of music was extensive... He took keen interest in games and in the daily life of the undergraduates.
Fine died after a bicycle accident:-
In the uncertain evening light he was riding his bicycle on a road in the outskirts of Princeton and was struck from behind by an automobile, the driver of which failed to see that he was starting to make a left turn. He died the next morning without having recovered consciousness.
Fine Hall, at the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton, is a memorial which keeps his name before mathematicians at one of the most important centres of mathematics in the United States, and the world.

References (3 books/articles)

References elsewhere in this archive:

H B Fine was the President of the American Mathematical Society in 1911 - 1912. You can see a history of the AMS and a list of AMS presidents.

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JOC/EFR October 1997