When and why did Mathematicians saw a need to define Tensor Products?

I want to know the historical development of the idea "Tensor Product"?

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    $\begingroup$ The prototype for matrices was defined by Zehfuss in 1858, and later mistakenly ascribed to Kronecker by Hensel (it is also called Kronecker product), see On the history of the Kronecker product by Henderson at al.. Zehfuss used it to derive some determinant identities. $\endgroup$ – Conifold Nov 15 '20 at 8:01
  • $\begingroup$ It is not free. Can I get free access to this article? $\endgroup$ – Saikat Nov 15 '20 at 19:20
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    $\begingroup$ It is posted on ecommons, there are also slides on SIAM, and Schacke gives a historical summary based on it and details on applications in a freely accessible paper. $\endgroup$ – Conifold Nov 15 '20 at 22:22
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    $\begingroup$ For the more abstract modern version of tensor product applied to spaces and groups see Origin of the modern definition of the tensor product on Math SE. It goes back to Whitney (1938) and more generally to Bourbaki (1943). The motivation came from multilinear algebra as applied to homology. $\endgroup$ – Conifold Nov 15 '20 at 23:35
  • $\begingroup$ I think it's more a case of "mathematicians finding another useful shorthand notation for interesting calculations." Analogous to devising exponentiation as shorthand for multiplying $\endgroup$ – Carl Witthoft Nov 16 '20 at 13:43

The tensor product is actually a very simple concept.

It goes back to Babylonian times when people realised that two edges describes an area. Intuitively they realised that geometric area was bilinear but all this wasn't formalised until the twentieth century.

Mathematicians, being mathematicians, generalised by allowing the edges to take values in any vector space, as well as the attendant geometric area.

That formalisation took so long shouldn't be such a surprise. After arithmetic was invented well before Babylonian times and yet was only formalised with Peano's axioms in the early 20th C.

  • $\begingroup$ So is Tensor Product generalization of Geometric Area? $\endgroup$ – Saikat Nov 15 '20 at 6:54
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    $\begingroup$ @Saikat No, it is not. Bilinearity and tensoring are two different things, and bilinear forms were studied long before tensoring. Tensoring produces only a very special form of bilinearity (rank one). Even speaking loosely, areas and volumes are more related to Grassman's exterior product. $\endgroup$ – Conifold Nov 15 '20 at 8:06
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    $\begingroup$ I’m sorry, but claiming the idea of a tensor product (not just multiplication of numbers, but tensor products of vector spaces) goes back to the Babylonians is unreasonable. Should we say too that the Babylonians were doing calculus because calculus involves area and the area of a very simple region like a rectangle was known to the ancients? $\endgroup$ – KCd Nov 15 '20 at 8:07
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    $\begingroup$ @Conifold: I don't understand the remark, that tensor products only produce rank one bilinearity. The tensor product $\otimes:V_1\times V_2\to V_1\otimes V_2$ is the universal bilinear map, so it produces all bilinearity in a sense. And Mozibur Ullah is right in that the one dimensional vector space of "areas" is canonically (or by definition?) isomorphic to the tensor product of the one dimensional space of "lengths" with itself. $\endgroup$ – Michael Bächtold Dec 15 '20 at 13:39
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    $\begingroup$ That remark might seem trivial if one thinks of lengths and areas as "only numbers" (which requires an arbitrary choice of units of these vector spaces). But as far as a I understand, this identification of geometrical quantities (like lengths and areas) with numbers was not so common in the early history of mathematics. So it is not clear to me, in which sense the observation that the area of a rectangle is bilinear in its square lengths was an obvious triviality for everyone, or a genuine discovery. $\endgroup$ – Michael Bächtold Dec 15 '20 at 13:42

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