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Mathematical Treasure: IBM’s Men of Modern Mathematics Poster

Author(s): 
Sidney J. Kolpas (Delaware County Community College)

In 1966 IBM published a 2-foot by 12-foot timeline poster: Men of Modern Mathematics. (Unsurprisingly for the time period, women were assumed not to be among the creators of mathematics.) The timeline covered the period from 1000 CE to 1950 CE; it used brief texts and ample pictures to highlight the contributions of mathematics and mathematicians to various areas of science and architecture. The poster was distributed free to schools and teachers by request.

The mathematical items in the poster were prepared by Professor Raymond Redheffer (1921–2005) of UCLA. The poster was designed by Charles Eames (1907–1978), the noted American designer, architect, and film maker; 20 color runs were used to print each poster. Eames wanted viewers to remember the significance of math in our world. The poster has since been displayed in mathematics departments and classrooms around the globe. Indeed, the IBM timeline was proudly displayed in my classroom throughout the 20 years I taught secondary school mathematics. I used it to help teach some mathematics history, where appropriate to the course material, and as motivation for student projects. I still have my timeline, which is now quite rare.

Left side of the 1966 IBM Men of Modern Mathematics poster designed by Charles Eames.

Right side of the 1966 IBM Men of Modern Mathematics poster designed by Charles Eames.

Photos by Barry Lawrence Ruderman.

From 2011 to 2012 IBM released a free iPad interactive application, Minds of Modern Mathematics, based on the poster but updated to the present and rightfully adding coverage of women in mathematics. Users were able to access additional information and context about the entries as well as view nine brief films on mathematical concepts. The app was developed with aid from the Eames Office, which preserves the legacy of Charles and Ray Eames and encourages designers of all ages to continue their work. For students who had access to iPads at that time, the application was a wonderful learning tool. A few of the films may be viewed on the Eames website, including the well-known Powers of Ten (1977).

Acknowledgements

I thank Genevieve Fong and the Eames Office, LLC, for permission to publish images of the timeline and Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps Inc. for supplying images of his copy of the timeline. Vintage copies of Men of Modern Mathematics are still available for purchase in the Eames Shop.

References

Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps, Inc. https://www.raremaps.com/.

Chang, Alexandra. “New IBM App Presents Nearly 1,000 Years of Math History.” Wired, 6 April 2012. https://www.wired.com/2012/04/new-ibm-app-presents-nearly-1000-years-of-math-history/.

Eames Office. Eames Official Site. https://www.eamesoffice.com/.

Gamelin, Theodore W. “In Memoriam: Raymond Redheffer.” https://senate.universityofcalifornia.edu/_files/inmemoriam/html/raymondredheffer.htm.

“Mathematica: A World of Numbers . . . and Beyond.” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mathematica:_A_World_of_Numbers..._and_Beyond.

“Minds of Modern Mathematics.” AppAdvice. https://appadvice.com/app/minds-of-modern-mathematics/432359402.

Teore, Jessica. “IBM Minds of Modern Mathematics iPad App.” https://www.jteore.com/momm.

Index to Mathematical Treasures

Sidney J. Kolpas (Delaware County Community College), "Mathematical Treasure: IBM’s Men of Modern Mathematics Poster," Convergence (September 2021)