George Boole, Mathematician: Biography & Timeline

Instructor: Lonny Meinecke

Lonny teaches psychology classes at King University, and has a bachelor's degree in IT and a doctorate in psychology.

In this lesson, you'll learn about George Boole, a famous mathematician who made significant contributions in algebra. We'll explore his life and logic and learn what led us to name a branch of mathematics after him.


George Boole was born on November 2, 1815 in Lincoln, England to pretty humble beginnings. His dad was a not-so-successful cobbler. George's father daydreamed of doing something meaningful in science or math while he stitched together leather shoes. As a typical working class to success story goes, George began studying to be a tradesman like his father at a young age.

George Boole
George Boole

Not surprisingly, his father's unfulfilled passion for math was not lost on his son; and young George excelled at the mere glimmer of academic instruction. A friend of the family taught him Latin, which he mastered by age 12. George went on to teach himself Greek, German, Italian, and French. In fact, he was so good at Greek, his work translating Meleager's 'Ode to Spring' was published in the newspaper when George was only 14. It caused a ruckus of disbelief. And though his family could only afford vocational school, George taught himself what they could not afford.

By age 16, this child of a daydreaming cobbler, whose business eventually collapsed, was an assistant teacher who financially supported his parents and whole family. George's love of education seemed insatiable, as he consumed Newton, Laplace, Lacroix, and Lagrange (pretty much all the mathematics of his day). He held a few other teaching positions and even opened his own school at age 19. Then in 1838, he took over Hall's Academy in Waddington, which is near his home of Lincoln.

The year 1854, and the following decade, were fruitful years for Boole. He published his key paper on algebraic logic titled: 'An Investigation into the Laws of Thought, on Which are founded the Mathematical Theories of Logic and Probabilities'. It was based on the work of Leibniz. George married Mary Everest in 1855; yes, she was the niece of the guy the famous mountain is named after. They had five children, hopefully none of whom ended up as daydreaming cobblers. George went on to write several papers that advanced ideas in mathematics and logic.

But sadly, George's story doesn't end well. There seemed a curious absence of logic when, at age 49, he walked two miles in a downpour to give a lecture. He then went ahead and taught class in his damp clothes. Things might have worked out, but his wife also thought a damp bed might make him better. So we lost George Boole on a cold December in 1864, just when things were looking grand.

A Branch of Science in Boole's Name

You're probably wondering why this guy is so fondly remembered. Well, a branch of mathematics called Boolean algebra is named after him. Boolean algebra is the basis of nearly every computer gadget out there. Boole realized that algebra could solve some of the hard problems of philosophy, like how to make logical decisions when things are really fuzzy or complex. It's called linguistic algebra, which simplifies logical propositions by separating two things with a logical operator, the main examples being AND, OR, and NOT. Just remember, Boolean algebra is how computers can figure out material you and I would find way too hard. And they do it using just 1s and 0s and Boolean logic.

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