I'm interested in the mathematical problems proposed for the grand-prix
of the French Academy Of Sciences, from its beginnigs in 1666 to the present. Are there any books or articles with the precise problem statements & the winners?


Ernest Maindron, Les fondations de prix à l’Académie des sciences: Les lauréats de l’Académie, 1714–1880. Gauthier-Villars, Paris, 1881.

It is striking and not well-enough known (e.g. to Wikipedia) how the huge 125,000 pounds endowed in 1714 by Rouillé de Meslay (compare £20,000 for the famous Longitude Act drafted by Newton) drove fame and focus to celestial mechanics (for navigation, mostly even years) and shipbuilding (odd years) in 18th century science and technology, until the French Revolution:

Year: Winners: 1720 Nature of motion Crousaz 1720 Clock stabilization at sea Massy 1724 Collision laws Mac Laurin, J. Bernoulli 1725 Hourglass and water clock stabilization at sea D. Bernoulli 1726 Collision laws Mazière 1727 Ship masting Bouguer, Le Camus 1728 Causes of gravity Bulffinger 1729 Height measurement at sea Bouguer 1730 Motion of planetary aphelia J. Bernoulli 1731 Compass use at sea Bouguer 1732 Tilting of planetary orbits ∅ 1733 Ship path tracing Poleni 1734 Tilting of planetary orbits D. Bernoulli, J. Bernoulli 1736 Propagation of light J. Bernoulli 1737 Anchor design Créqui, Poleni, Trésaguet, D. Bernoulli, J. Bernoulli 1738 Nature and propagation of fire Créqui, Lozeran de Fiesc, L. Euler 1740 Tides Cavalleri, Mac Laurin, L. Euler, D. Bernoulli 1741 Capstan building de Pontis, Fenel, Delorme, Poleni, Ludot, J. Bernoulli 1743 Compass building L. Euler, D. Bernoulli 1746 Compass magnetism Dutour, L. Euler, D. Bernoulli, J. Bernoulli 1747 Finding time at sea D. Bernoulli 1748 Inequalities of Saturn and Jupiter L. Euler 1750 Inequalities of Saturn and Jupiter ∅ 1751 Estimation of currents at sea D. Bernoulli 1752 Inequalities of Saturn and Jupiter Bošković, L. Euler 1753 Ship propulsion Mathon de la Cour, Pereyre, L. Euler, D. Bernoulli 1754 Planetary perturbations of Earth ∅ 1755 Ship pitch and roll Chauchot 1756 Planetary perturbations of Earth L. Euler 1757 Ship pitch and roll D. Bernoulli 1758 Celestial body atmospheres Frisi 1759 Ship pitch and roll Groignard, L. Euler 1760 Mean motion of planets Frisi, C. Euler 1761 Ship stowage and ballasting Bossut, J. A. Euler 1762 Lunar acceleration Bossut 1764 Lunar libration Lagrange 1765 Ship stowage and ballasting Bourdé de Villehuet, Groignard, Gautier, Bossut 1766 Satellites of Jupiter Lagrange 1768 Secular equation of the Moon ∅ 1769 Timekeeping at sea Le Roy 1770 Secular equation of the Moon J. A. Euler, L. Euler 1772 Secular equation of the Moon Lagrange, L. Euler 1773 Timekeeping at sea Arsandeaux, Le Roy 1774 Secular equation of the Moon Lagrange 1776 Planetary perturbations of comets ∅ 1777 Compass building Magny, Van Swinden, Coulomb 1778 Planetary perturbations of comets Fuss 1780 Planetary perturbations of comets Lagrange 1781 Rope stiffness and friction in winches Delanges, Ximenes, L. Carnot, Coulomb 1782 Comets of 1532 and 1661 Méchain 1787 Maritime insurance Bicquilley, Delacroix 1791 Resistance of fluids Gerlach, Romme 1791 Herschel’s planet Delambre 1792 Satellites of Jupiter Delambre

More details in:
Frédéric Marguet, Histoire générale de la navigation du XVe au XXe siècle. Société d’Éditions Géographiques, Maritimes et Coloniales, Paris, 1931.

  • $\begingroup$ Very nice! But what about after 1880? $\endgroup$ – Alexandre Eremenko Oct 28 '18 at 14:57
  • $\begingroup$ I don’t know. Start here? $\endgroup$ – Francois Ziegler Oct 28 '18 at 15:53
  • $\begingroup$ I wanted to add one point for the addition of Marguet, but somehow the system does not allow it. I was under impression that after a an answer was edited I can vote once more. $\endgroup$ – Alexandre Eremenko Oct 28 '18 at 17:16
  • $\begingroup$ It seems that from the pure utilitarian view the British had better return on their money:-) $\endgroup$ – Alexandre Eremenko Oct 28 '18 at 17:17
  • $\begingroup$ For sure, their navy ended up trouncing the rest of them, and they got an empire. But I remember reading that Harrison’s clocks long remained so expensive that in practice most ships used the lunar distance method, based on the work of Euler and Mayer. Also, I believe the French prizes only spent the interest of the original fund, not the capital (which only later got lost to inflation or political turmoil). And today we do use celestial navigation — only with ad hoc satellites (GPS). (P.S. I appreciate your generous intent :-)) $\endgroup$ – Francois Ziegler Oct 28 '18 at 18:20

The first prize winning essays are available in full via Google Books in Pieces qui ont remporte les deux prizes de l'Academie Royale des Sciences (Paris 1721). Hope your 18th century French is up to scratch!


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