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Francois-Joseph Servois: Priest, Artillery Officer, and Professor of Mathematics - Introduction

Salvatore J. Petrilli, Jr. (Adelphi University)

Who was the mathematician François-Joseph Servois (1767-1847)? To the extent that his name is known at all, it is for introducing the words “distributive” and “commutative” to mathematics (see page 5). Servois was ordained a priest near the beginning of the French Revolution. Had it not been for the revolution, it seems likely he would have remained a priest and become a successful mathematician. With the outbreak of the revolutionary wars, he joined the armed forces and followed a military career while also pursuing mathematics during his leisure time. His mathematical career flourished once he was appointed professor of mathematics at the French artillery schools. This paper is a survey of the life and subtle mathematical contributions of Servois.