1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Peirce, Benjamin

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PEIRCE, BENJAMIN (1809–1880), American mathematician and astronomer, was born at Salem, Massachusetts, on the 4th of April 1809. Graduating at Harvard College in 1829, he became mathematical tutor there in 1831 and professor in 1833 He had already assisted Nathaniel Bowditch in his translation of the Mécantque céleste, and now produced a series of mathematical textbooks characterized by the brevity and terseness which made his teaching unattractive to inapt pupils. Young men of talent, on the contrary, found his instruction most stimulating, and after Bowditch’s death in 1838 Peirce stood first among American mathematicians. His researches into the perturbations of Uranus and Neptune (Proc. Amer. Acad., 1848) gave him a wider fame; he became in 1849 consulting astronomer to the American Nautical Almanac, and for this work prepared new tables of the moon (1852). A discussion of the equilibrium of Saturn’s rings led him to conclude in 1855 that they must be of a fluid nature. From 1867 to 1874 he was superintendent of the Coast Survey. In 1857 he published his best known work, the System of Analytical Mechanics, which was, however, surpassed in brilliant originality by his Linear Associative Algebra (lithographed privately in a few copies, 1870; reprinted in the Amer. Journ. Math., 1882). He died at Cambridge, Mass., on the 6th of October 1880.

See New Amer. Cyclopaedia (Ripley and Dana), vol. xiii. (1861); T. J. J. See, Popular Astronomy, in. 49; Nature, xxii. 607; R. Grant, Hist. of Phys. Astronomy, pp 205, 292; J. C. Poggendorff, Biog. lit. Handworterbuch, Month. Notices Roy. Astr. Society, xli. 191.