The Indiana Pi Bill, 1897

Updated March 2010


The Indiana Pi Bill

The Indiana Pi Bill
Dr. Edward J. Goodwin, M.D., a physician in the community of Solitude, Posey County, Indiana, was one of a long line of mathematical hobbyists to try to square the circle.  Dr. Goodwin thought he had succeeded. He copyrighted his answer in 1889 in the United States and in seven countries in Europe, and had it published in the American Mathematical Monthly in 1894.

Apparently, though, Dr. Goodwin was a loyal Hoosier, and thought that his state should benefit from his insights without cost. So, in 1897, Dr. Goodwin wrote a bill incorporating his new ideas, and persuaded his State Representative to introduce it.  Taylor I. Record was the Representative from Posey County to the Indiana General Assembly.  Representative Record was a farmer, timber and lumber merchant.  The session of 1897 was in his first and only term in the legislature.  During the debate on the bill, he was quoted as saying he knew nothing of it, but introduced it at the request of Dr. Goodwin. Representative Record submitted the bill, House Bill 246, on January 18, 1897.  

Dr. Goodwin's idea was to allow Indiana to use his new mathematical facts in its textbooks free of charge. People in the rest of the country and the world would have to pay him a royalty.  The preamble of the bill outlined this offer:

A Bill for an act introducing a new mathematical truth and offered as a contribution to education to be used only by the State of Indiana free of cost by paying any royalties whatever on the same, provided it is accepted and adopted by the official action of the Legislature of 1897. 

The bill itself is crammed top to bottom with 19th century mathematical jargon.  It seems likely that few members of the General Assembly understood it (many said so during the debate).  They were right not to understand.  Petr Beckmann, in his History of Pi, wrote that the bill contained "hair-raising statements which not only contradict elementary geometry, but also appear to contradict each other" (p. 175). 

Even for the mathematical novice, though, one statement stands out.  Towards the end of the second of three sections of the bill, it says "the ratio of the diameter and circumference is as five-fourths to four."  Pi is the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of the circle, and the ratio 4 to 5/4 is 3.2.  A nice, round, wrong number.

Links to More Information

To Find: Go To:
The text of the Indiana Pi Bill, House Bill 246, 1897. This website: HB 246, 1897
The article by Dr. Edward Goodwin about his solution to squaring the circle, published in the American Mathematical Monthly in 1894, which is mentioned in section 3 of the bill. This website: Goodwin, "Quadrature of the Circle."

The House Bill 246 was referred to the House Committee on Swamp Lands, also known as the Committee on Canals.  Perhaps the leadership thought the bill had something to do with surveying, although the Chicago Daily Tribune thought that the Speaker of the House, Representative Pettit, was having fun. Representative M. B. Butler, chairman of the Canals Committee, recommended that it be referred to the Committee on Education, and this was done on January 19.

The newspapers took note.  The Indianapolis Sentinel, on January 20, reported that the bill was "not intended to be a hoax."  The article also reported that Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Geeting believed that Goodwin had found the solution to the problem of squaring the circle.  

The House Education Committee, chaired by Representative S. E. Nicholson, reported the bill out of committee "with the recommendation that said bill do pass."  It was taken up by the full House on February 5, and passed unanimously, 67 to 0.

The Indianapolis Journal wrote the next day that "this is the strangest bill that has ever passed an Indiana Assembly." The Chicago Daily Tribune had a great time making fun of the Indiana legislature. “The immediate effect of this change will be to give all circles when they enter Indiana either greater circumferences or less diameters,” said the Tribune. “An Illinois circle or a circle originating in Ohio will find its proportions modified as soon as it lands on Indiana soil.” Later, the Tribune even published an editorial cartoon about the bill, featurning Representative Record as a mathematician. Papers in New York, Boston and Washington picked up the story too.

Now in steps our hero.  On February 5, the head of the Purdue University Mathematics Department, Professor Clarence Abiathar Waldo, was in the Statehouse lobbying for the University's budget appropriation.  Professor Waldo had been an instructor of mathematics (and Latin) at several seminaries, institutes and colleges in the Midwest for more than 20 years.  He had also been in administration, as a Registrar and Vice President at other institutions, which may explain why he had been given the task of keeping track of the University's appropriation.  He was the author of a book titled Manual of Descriptive Geometry.

Links to More Information

To Find: Go To:
A brief reminicence about the pi bill by Professor Clarence Waldo, published in the Proceedings of the Indiana Academy of Science in 1917. This website: Waldo, "What Might Have Been"


He was astonished to find the General Assembly debating mathematical legislation.  Naturally, he listened in.  Naturally, he was horrified.  He heard a Representative speak for the bill:

"The case is perfectly simple.  If we pass this bill which establishes a new and correct value of pi, the author offers our state without cost the use of his discovery and its free publication in our school textbooks, while everyone else must pay him a royalty."

After the debate, a Representative offered to introduce him to Dr. Goodwin.  Professor Waldo replied that he was already acquainted with as many crazy people as he cared to know.  

That evening, Professor Waldo "coached" (as he put it) the Senators about the bill.  Still, on February 11 the bill was introduced in the Senate and referred to the Committee on Temperance.  With a speed we can only admire, the committee reported the bill favorably the next day, and sent it to the Senate floor for debate.

This time its reception was different.  According to the Indianapolis News report of February 13, quoted by Edington (p. 209), 

...the bill was brought up and made fun of.  The Senators made bad puns about it, ridiculed it and laughed over it.  The fun lasted half an hour.  Senator Hubbell said that it was not meet for the Senate, which was costing the State $250 a day, to waste its time in such frivolity.  He said that in reading the leading newspapers of Chicago and the East, he found that the Indiana State Legislature had laid itself open to ridicule by the action already taken on the bill.  He thought consideration of such a propostion was not dignified or worthy of the Senate.  He moved the indefinite postponement of the bill, and the motion carried.  

The Indianapolis Journal had Senator Hubbell saying that "the Senate might as well try to legislate water to run up hill as to establish mathematical truth by law."  The Journal noted that one who spoke against it intimated that there was anything wrong with the theories it advances.  All of the senators who spoke on the bill admitted that they were ignorant of the merits of the proposition.  It was simply regarded as not being a subject for legislation (Edington, p. 210).

Senator Hubbell moved to postpone further consideration of the bill indefinitely, and the motion passed.  According to Beckmann, the bill "has not been on the agenda since" (p. 177).  The official history of the Indiana General Assembly (p. 429) gives the credit to Professor Waldo:

Thanks mainly to this alert professor, who convinced the Senate not to tamper with "unsolvable mysteries . . . above man's abilities to comprehend," the Indiana General Assembly failed to do in 1897 what no one before or since has done, i.e. square the circle.

Links to More Information
To Find: Go To:
A detailed account of the history of the bill, by Will Edington, published in the Proceedings of the Indiana Academy of Science in 1935. This website: Edington, "House Bill No. 246, Indiana State Legislature, 1897



Dr. Edward J. Goodwin
So far I can only speculate about Dr. Goodwin. Even his first name is not-quite-clear. Edington's article calls him "Edwin", based on some newspaper articles, but the doctor's own article in the American Mathematical Monthly shows his name as "Edward."

He did publish his solution to squaring the circle in the American Mathematical Monthly in July 1894, as the bill mentions in section three. This was the first year this journal was published. It is included in the Queries and Information section, towards the back of the issue, and includes the heading "published by the request of the author." It also states that the material is "copyrighted by the author, 1889. All rights reserved." It may be that "published by the request of the author" is a notice that the copyrighted material was being printed with the permission of Dr. Goodwin. It seems more likely, though, that this was the journal's way of saying that it took no responsibility for the contents of the article. Mathematicians had already proven that squaring the circle was impossible, as the editors of the journal must have known.

Searching through the subsequent issues of the American Mathematical Monthly, I find no reference to Dr. Goodwin's article. This must have been frustrating, to have discovered the solution to an age-old problem, and to be ignored. Perhaps this is why he hatched the idea of putting his ideas into legislation.

State Superintendent of Education Geeting was visiting Posey County to inspect its schools, on January 21 and 22, according to The Mt. Vernon Western Sun (a newspaper from Posey County) on January 21. Perhaps Dr. Goodwin found an opportunity to speak to the superintendent, and there convinced him that he had found the answer to squaring the circle. Several sources report that Superintendent Geeting endorsed Dr. Goodwin's mathematical ideas.

One wonders whether Representative Record introduced House Bill 246 because he thought that it was good policy for Indiana, or to molify an insistent constituent. Rep. Record was reported as being ignorant of the merits of the mathematics in his bill.

Dr. Goodwin traveled to Indianapolis to lobby for the bill personally. The Lafayette Daily Courier reported that "the doctor is at the state capital now ready to explain is discovery to the members of the legislature." And, of course, one of the legislators offered to introduce him to Professor Waldo, who replied that he already knew as many crazy people he cared to know.

Dr. Goodwin's attempts at lobbying could not stand up to those of Prof. Waldo, and the bill was tabled in the Senate with much ridicule. There is a hint of sympathy for the doctor, though. The Indianapolis Sun reported, "The senator from Posey moved to suspend the rules for his neighbor's sake, and told Senator Hubbell that the old doctor would worry to death if his bill wasn't passed. What will become of Dr. Goodwin remains to be seen."


Representative Taylor I. Record
Here's Representative Record's entry in the Biographical Directory of the Indiana General Assembly (p. 323):

RECORD (RECORDS), Taylor I.  HOUSE, 1897 (POSEY).  Born October 12, 1846, Greene County, Indiana.  Attended common schools.  Married Sallie A. Cox, 1867 (4 children) - died 1882; married Mary Yeager, 1883 (1 child).  Farmer; timber and lumber merchant.  Democrat.  Died November 20, 1912, Lynn Township, Posey County, Indiana. 


Professor Clarence A. Waldo
Here's Professor Waldo's entry in the 1897 Debris, the Purdue yearbook (p. 20): 

CLARENCE ABIATHAR WALDO, A.M., Ph.D., Professor of Mathematics.

Graduate Wesleyan University 1875, A.B.; 1878, A.M.; Professor of Mathematics and Natural Science at Drew Female Seminary, 1875-76;  Professor Latin and Mathematics at Hackettstown Collegiate Institute, 1876-77;  Instructor in Mathematics and Registrar at Wesleyan University, 1877-81;  Professor Mathematics and Vice President Hackettstown Collegiate Institute, 1882-83; studied in Universities of Leipsic and Munich, 1882-83;  Professor Mathematics Rose Polytechnic Institute, 1883-91; Professor Mathematics De Pauw University, 1891-95;  President Indiana College Association, 1891;  Fellow of American Association for the Advancement of Science; Ph.D., 1894;  Author of "Manual of Descriptive Geometry." 

Here's his reminiscence of the event, published in 1917.

As the session of the Legislature was drawing toward its close it chanced to be the duty of the writer to visit the State Capitol and make sure that the Academy appropriation was cared for.  When admitted to the floor of the House, imagine his surprize when he discovered that he was in the midst of a debate upon a piece of mathematical legislation.  An ex-teacher from the eastern part of the state was saying: "The case is perfectly simple.  If we pass this bill which establishes a new and correct value of pi, the author offers our state without cost the use of his discovery and its free publication in our school textbooks, while everyone else must pay him a royalty."  The roll was then called and the bill passed its third and final reading in the lower house.  A member then showed the writer a copy of the bill just passed and asked him if he would like an introduction to the learned doctor, its author.  He declined the courtesy with thanks remarking that he was acquainted with as many crazy people as he cared to know.
    That evening the senators were properly coached and shortly thereafter as it came to its final reading in the upper house they threw out with much merriment the epoch making discovery of the Wise Man from the Pocket.

Edington notes that Professor Waldo was writing twenty years after the event and apparently did not check his facts.  Waldo put the year down as 1899 (causing Edington much wasted effort in the records of the 1899 legislature). 

Professor Waldo gives credit to the Indiana Academy of Science for the defeat of the bill, though it is not clear why. He wonders at the fact that the legislature did not choose to consult with the experts at its state universities about the issue. State Superintendent Geeting had endorsed the idea; perhaps legislators thought that this was expertise enough.

Waldo was apparently present for the House debate, on February 5, and remembers having "coached" the senators that evening.  The bill was assigned to the Temperance Committee six days later, which sounds like a joke. Edington (p. 209) speculates that this may have been "done intentionally, for certainly the bill could have been referred to no committee more appropriately named."  Yet the committee passed the bill. Waldo says he coached the Senate the week before.  Either he had not coached those on the committee (who were then probably unpleasantly surprised by its reception in the full Senate), or the Senators on the committee were just having some fun, and passed it so that the full Senate could join in. Or, perhaps Professor Waldo remembered incorrectly, and he did his coaching on February 12, after the bill passed the Senate Temperance Committee but before the Senate debate. 

Some evidence points to February 5 as the date for the professor's coaching. The Lafayette Courier reported that Purdue President Smart presented the university's budget request on the evening of February 4. It is possible that Professor Waldo also was there (since he describes himself as attending to the Academy appropriation). He likely stayed in the capital overnight, as it would have been too late to travel all the way back to Lafayette after the evening session, so he could have been present on February 5, the day of the House debate. Plus, the legislature had invited Susan B. Anthony to address a joint House-Senate session on February 5, which sounds to modern ears as something not to be missed.

Eventually, the General Assembly passed Purdue's appropriation, which the student newspaper, the Exponent, reported at $18,500. If that figure is accurate, it was much less than the $54,000 President Smart and Professor Waldo had asked for on February 4. The economy was recovering from the "Great Depression" of the 1890's in that year; perhaps revenues were short. Professor Waldo seems to have been more effective lobbying for pi than he was for Purdue's budget.

Professor Waldo was a prominent enough mathematician to be mentioned by the American Mathematical Monthly in 1918 upon is retirement:

Professor C. A. Waldo, who retired last June from the Thayer professorship of mathematics and applied mechanics at Washington University, St. Louis, Mo., is now living at 401 West 118th Street, New York City. Professor Waldo’s educational career extends over a period of forty years, beginning as an instructor in mathematics at Wesleyan University in 1877. He occupied in succession the professorship and head of the department of mathematics at Rose Polytechnic Institute, DePauw, Purdue and Washington Universities. He was retired from Washington University as professor emeritus.

And, the journal made note of the professor's death at age 74, on October 1, 1926.


"After many trials and tribulations. . . ," Purdue Exponent, March 11, 1897, p. 152.

 Beckman, Petr.  A History of Pi.  Boulder, Colorado:  The Golem Press, 1982 (5th edition).

Debris (Purdue University Yearbook), 1897.

Debris (Purdue University Yearbook), 1899.

Edington, Will E.  "House Bill No. 246, Indiana State Legislature, 1897," Proceedings of the Indiana Academy of Science 45 (1935):  206-210.

Goodwin, Edward J. "Quadrature of the Circle," The American Mathematical Monthly, Vol. 1, No. 7 (July 1894), pp. 246-248.

"Indiana's Finger in the Pi," Chicago Daily Tribune, February 7, 1897, p. 30.

"Notes and News," American Mathematical Monthly, 25 (May, 1918), pp. 238-240.

"Notes and News," American Mathematical Monthly, 33 (December 1926), pp. 530-532.

"Odd Bills Galore," Chicago Daily Tribune, February 21, 1897, p. 1.

"One might expect that Solitude, Posey county, would be the birst place of a new truth," Lafayette Daily Courier, February 4, 1897, p.4.

Shephard, Rebecca A., Charles W. Calhoun, Elizabeth Shanahan-Shoemaker and Alan F. January.  A Biographical Directory of the Indiana General Assembly, vol. 1, 1816-1899. Indianapolis, Indiana:  Indiana Historical Bureau, 1980.

"That mathematical discovery of Dr. Goodwin. . . ," Indianapolis Sun, February 13, 1897, p.1.

"The Needs of Purdue," Lafayette Daily Courier, February 5, 1897, p. 8.

Waldo, Clarence A. "What Might Have Been," Proceedings of the Indiana Academy of Science 1916 (1917):  445-446.

Walsh, Justin E.  The Centennial History of the Indiana General Assembly, 1816-1978.  Indianapolis, Indiana:  Indiana Historical Bureau, 1987.