4
$\begingroup$

The famed Wallace–Bolyai–Gerwien theorem has got its name from three mathematicians who proved it independently. More precisely speaking

Farkas Bolyai first formulated the question. Gerwien proved the theorem in 1833, but in fact Wallace had proven the same result already in 1807. According to other sources, Bolyai and Gerwien had independently proved the theorem in 1833 and 1835, respectively.

The odd thing that came to my attention was, there is no trace of a mathematician named Paul Gerwien anywhere on the web or history books as far as I know. This sounds strange since Gerwien has proved the theorem much later than Wallace, and I think that in order to get one's name labeled on an already proved theorem, one must be a famous and established mathematician.

Out of curiosity, I have searched quite thoroughly and yet, found no biography of a 19th century Paul Gerwien. There are no other contributions from this mysterious mathematician other than WBG theorem. So my question is

Who was Paul Gerwien and does he have any other contributions in mathematics?

$\endgroup$
0
11
$\begingroup$

I have not been able to find any primary sources that confirm that Gerwien's first name was Paul. Gerwien published three papers in Crelle's "Journal für die reine und angewandte Mathematik", where he is listed in the table of contents as P. Gerwien. High-quality scans of these publications are available from the Göttingen Digitization Center.

P. Gerwien, "Zerschneidung jeder beliebigen Anzahl von gleichen geradlinigen Figuren in dieselben Stücke." Journal für die reine und angewandte Mathematik, 1833 (10), pp. 228-234. (online)

P. Gerwien, "Beweise einiger auf der Kugel Statt findenden Sätze." Journal für die reine und angewandte Mathematik, 1834 (11), pp. 130-135 (online)

P. Gerwien, "Einige geometrische Sätze." Journal für die reine und angewandte Mathematik, 1834 (11), pp. 264-271 (online)

All three articles identify the author as:

Gerwien, Pr. Lieuten. im Königlich. Preußs. 22sten Inf. Reg.

This tells us that Gerwien was a 1st lieutenant in the Royal Prussian 22nd Infantry Regiment at the time of publication. In 1831-1832 he also published, as co-author with a fellow officer, a textbook on geometry in two volumes:

H. v. Holleben and P. Gerwien, "Aufgaben-Systeme und Sammlungen aus der ebenen Geometrie, zu einem selbstständigen Unterricht in der Analysis geordnet und durch Gesetze vorbereitet", Berlin: Reimer 1831 & 1832

The announcement for this work in Crelle's journal identifies H. v. Holleben as a lieutenant in the 21st Infantry Regiment, P. Gerwien as a lieutenant in the 22nd Infantry Regiment, and both as teachers at the Royal Prussian Cadet Corps. There is a published history of the 22nd Infantry Regiment that lists an officer by the name of Gerwien who is very likely identical with the author of the above publications:

"Geschichte des 1. Oberschlesischen Infanterie-Regiments Nr. 22". Berlin: Ernst Siegfried Mittler und Sohn 1884 (Google scan)

Gerwien, geb. in Ostpreußen. Früher: im Garde-Ulan. Regt. Eintritt: vor 1822 als Sek. Lt. Austritt: 1845 als Maj. in den Gen. St. versetzt. 1830 Lebensalter 30 J. Dienstzeit 15. J. 2. Sek. Lt. und komm. als Lehrer beim Kad. Korps Berlin. 1840 4. Kapt. Starb als General beim Gr. Gen. St. in Berlin

This tells us that Gerwien was born in East Prussia around 1800, entered military service around 1815, started service with the 22nd Infantry Regiment prior to 1822 as 2nd lieutenant, and was posted as a teacher to the Cadet Corps in Berlin. He left the unit in 1845 as a major, transferring to the General Staff. He died as a general while working in the Great General Staff in Berlin.

Some evidence for this biographical sketch is provided in the following four publications:

Militair-Wochenblatt, 18. Jahrgang 1833, No. 892 (Google scan)

  1. Juli 1833
    Gerwien, Pr. Lt., com. beim Cadett. Corps, tritt ins 22. Inf. Regt. zurück

This tells us that Gerwien, with the rank of 1st lieutenant, previously posted to the Cadet Corps, was assigned back to the 22nd Infantry Regiment on July 12, 1833.

Rang- und Quartierliste der Königlich-Preußsischen Armee für das Jahr 1847 (Google scan)

Gerwien, Gen.-Stab, Major 12. Juni 1843

This tells us that Gerwien was promoted to major on June 12, 1843 and that in 1847 he served in the General Staff.

Militair-Wochenblatt, 33. Jahrgang, 1849, No. 28 (Google scan)

  1. Juni 1849
    Gerwien, Major vom gr. Generalstabe, zum Abtheilungs-Vorsteher

This tells us that Gerwien, a major serving in the Great General Staff, was promoted to department head effective June 26, 1849.

Königlich Preußischer Staats-Anzeiger, 1856 (scan by Bavarian State Library)

Berlin, 4. Juli. Seine Majestät der König haben den nachbenannten Offizieren und Beamten die Erlaubnis zur Anlegung der von des Kaisers von Rußlands Majestät ihnen verliehenen Orden Allergnädigst zu ertheilen geruht. Es haben erhalten:
[...]
der Oberst Gerwien im großen Generalstabe;
den St.-Wladimir-Orden vierter Klasse

On July 4, 1856, Gerwien, then colonel in the Great General Staff, received royal permission to wear a Russian order he had received, the Order of Saint Vladimir, 4th class.

In the Berlin address directory for 1855 we find colonel P. Gerwien, department head in the Great General Staff, residing in Berlin at Bernburger Straße 30 (this address in Google Maps today):

Gerwien, P., Oberst und Abtheilungs-Vorsteher im großen General-Stabe, Bernburgerstr. 30

I have some tentative information that Gerwien had a daughter Clotilda probably born around 1831, and that he had already passed away when she married Peter Bayne on April 26, 1858. The following article mentions a second daughter by the name of Anna:

R. Buchholz, "Das Blutegel-Palais." Monatsblatt der Gesellschaft für Heimatkunde der Provinz Brandenburg zu Berlin, Vol. 21 (1913) pp. 92-93 (online)

Fräulein Anna Gerwien, eine Tochter des im Jahre 1858 verstorbenen Generals Gerwien, hatte die Freundlichkeit, mir ein Manuskript, die Lebensgeschichte ihres Vaters darstellend, zur Einsicht zu leihen. Darin finden sich mancherlei interessante Episoden berichtet aus den Jahren 1847 bis 1856, in denen der General als Stabsoffizier in Berlin wohnte; er war unter andern im Generalstab und Taktiklehrer des 18jährigen Kornprinzen und hatte dabei Gelegenheit, in Hofkreisen und mit berühmten Zeitgenossen in Verkehr zu treten.

The author reports that he had temporary access to a manuscript chronicling the life of General Gerwien, and that during his time in Berlin (1847-1856) he had been a member of the General Staff as well as an instructor in military tactics for the crown prince, making contacts at court and with various famous contemporaries.

A poorly cropped scan of the Militärzeitung from 1858 reports on the death of Gerwien, who was a major general and the commander of the 15th Infantry Brigade in Münster at that time. It should be noted that in the Prussian army of that time a Generalmajor (major general) was the lowest rank of general, with the modern equivalent being the Brigadegeneral (brigadier general). Using other news items for temporal context, his death seems to have occurred in late April of 1858:

Zu Münster verschied in der letzten Woche des v. Mts. nach längerem Leiden der k. preußische Generalmajor und Kommandant der 15. Infanteriebrigade Gerwien, ein hochverdienter Offizier, der sich nicht allein in der preußischen, sondern fast in jeder europäischen Armee sich eines höchst ehrenvollen Rufes erfreute.

Finally found a notice detailing the date of death:

Zeitschrift für Kunst, Wissenschaft und Geschichte des Krieges (1859) (Google scan)

Während des Jahres 1858 starben im Preußischen Staate folgende, noch im Dienste befindliche oder zur Disposition gestellte und verabschiedete Generale:
[...]
Gerwien, General-Major und Kommandeur der 26sten Infanterie-Brigade, 59 Jahre alt, am 24sten April in Münster

Gerwien, major general and commander of the 26th Infantry Brigade died on April 24, 1858 in Münster at the age of 59. This suggests he was born in 1799.

In his autobiography "Ein Leben voller Abenteuer", in the chapter covering his life as a young cadet, Otto von Corvin (1812-1886) describes Gerwien as a young lieutenant with blonde curls. Corvin feared him as a strict math teacher, but also states that he was a well-meaning person who simply took his job very seriously.

I noticed belatedly an entry in the German Wikipedia for Karl Ludwig Gervien (born May 13, 1799 in Landsberg; died April 24, 1858 in Münster) whose biographical details match the information collected above very closely. The source cited by Wikipedia is Kurt von Priesdorff, Soldatisches Führertum, Band 6. Hamburg: Hanseatische Verlagsanstalt 1938.

I have been able to find other references to Karl Ludwig Gerwien (e.g. in the list of commanders of the 26th Infantry Brigade), so that Gervien is almost certainly an errant spelling. In particular, I found this research by Greg N. Frederickson:

Karl Ludwig Gerwien was born in 1799 in Landsberg in East Prussia. He entered the Garde-Ulanen-Regiment in 1815, then climbed the military ladder: becoming a second lieutenant in 22nd infantry regiment in 1818, a first lieutenant in 1829, a captain and company commander in 1835, then major in 1843, lieutenant colonel in 1851, colonel in 1852, major general in 1857. He died in Münster, Westfalen, in 1858. Gerwien commanded a general war school 1820-1823, was a teacher in the division school of the 12th division 1823-26, was a teacher at the cadet institute in 1826-1833, shifted to the general staff in 1849, and became commander of the 26th infantry brigade in 1856. [...] his dates and positions are so close a match that he is almost certainly the author listed as "P. Gerwien" in Crelle's Journal

$\endgroup$
1
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ It seems the mention of "Paul" as the first name was added to the Wikipedia article in this June 2010 edit and has been there ever since. $\endgroup$
    – V2Blast
    Sep 14 at 22:14

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.