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Algebraic Formalism within the Works of Servois and Its Influence on the Development of Linear Operator Theory - Francois-Joseph Servois

Anthony J. Del Latto (Adelphi University) and Salvatore J. Petrilli, Jr. (Adelphi University)

François-Joseph Servois was born on July 19, 1767, in the village of Mont-de-Laval, located in the Department of Doubs close to the Swiss border. Throughout his youth, Servois attended several religious schools in Mont-de-Laval and Besançon, the capital of Doubs, aspiring to become a priest. He was ordained a priest at Besançon shortly before the start of the French Revolution. He then left the priesthood in 1793 and became an officer in the Foot Artillery (sometimes referred to as the Heavy Artillery) with the outbreak of the revolutionary wars. In his leisure time Servois studied mathematics and his mathematical talents were apparent when he made improvements to one of the cannons, increasing its firing range significantly [Boyer 1895]. He suffered from poor health during his military career and, as a result, requested a non-active military position in the field of academia. He was assigned his first academic position on July 7, 1801, as a professor at the artillery school in Besançon, by virtue of a recommendation from the great mathematician Adrien-Marie Legendre (1752-1833). Throughout his academic career, Servois was on faculty at numerous artillery schools, including Besançon (1801), Châlons (March 1802 - December 1802), Metz (December 1802 - February 1808, 1815-1816), and La Fère (February 1808-1814, 1814-1815). His research spanned several areas, including mechanics, geometry, and calculus; however, he is best known for first introducing the words “distributive" and “commutative" to mathematics. On May 2, 1817, Servois was assigned to what would be his final position, as Curator of the Artillery Museum, which is currently part of the Museum of the Army in Paris. Servois retired to his hometown of Mont-de-Laval in 1827 and lived for another twenty years with his sister and his two nieces. He died on April 17, 1847. Readers interested in a more extensive biography and a review of Servois' other mathematical works can refer to Petrilli [2010].

It would be customary to include a painting or photograph of Servois in this biographical section, but there are no known images of him. However, due to Anne-Marie Aebischer and Hombeline Languereau [2010], there is now a photograph of his signature available to the public.

Servois signature

Figure 5. Servois' signature (April 14, 1814). Image by Anne-Marie Aebischer, courtesy of Presses universitaires de Franche-Comté, 2011.