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The Putnam Exam During Year Zero

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1 The Putnam Exam During Year Zero
USMA-Harvard Math Competition of 1933 Presented By: CPT Michelle Isenhour Western Michigan University

2 Putnam Mathematical Competition
Conducted by the MAA Began in 1938 and has prospered since Named after the late William Lowell Putnam 12 questions in two three-hour sessions Individual and team awards

3 The Legacy of Putnam 1921 – Putnam suggested the development of academic competition 1928 – English competition between Harvard and Yale (Harvard won) Yale and Princeton declined further competitions in English Cambridge declined competition in Economics

4 The Trouncing… November 1932 – Army trounced Harvard in football 46-0
President Lowell proclaimed that Harvard “could just as easily win any contest of a more academic nature”

5 The Challenge… “…I would very much like to test our method of teaching mathematics against that of your institution. I, frankly, think our method is superior to yours, and would like to try it out.” -Major General Connor, Superintendent of the United States Military Academy in a letter to President Lowell

6 Preparations for the Competition
Rules delegated to department heads Lieutenant Colonel Harris Jones, USMA Professor William C. Graustein, Harvard Exchanged information about curricula, pedagogy, and students

7 West Point Curricula Four semester core curriculum Subjects
Freshmen: 8 hours per week Sophomores:4 hours per week Subjects Algebra and Trigonometry Solid and Analytic Geometry Differential and Integral Calculus Least Squares (upper 1/3 of class)

8 Harvard Curricula Freshmen Sophomores Met for 3 hours per week
Textbooks Osgood and Graustein, Plane and Analytic Geometry Osgood’s Introduction to Calculus Sophomores Under guidance of tutors Subjects Analytic Geometry Algebra

9 Oscillation Begins… Resolved Issues Unresolved Issues
Topics examined: analytic geometry and calculus Sophomores examined in May 1933 Unresolved Issues West Point wanted contestants, Harvard 10 Home Team and Host Length of Test

10 Continues… LTC Jones, USMA
Offered to lower the number of contestants to 15 and have his team travel to Harvard for the test on 20 May Suggested one three-hour test claiming six-hours would “convert and interesting contest into dull drudgery and kill the enthusiasm of the competition”

11 Continues… Professor Graustein, Harvard
Established the number per side as 10 No expectation that the Military Academy would bear any part of the expense Two three-hour sessions with the second more challenging Twice as much calculus as analytic geometry and include theoretical questions on test Allow formula cards, logarithm tables, and Pierce’s Integral Tables as references Harvard would be happy to travel to West Point

12 …and Ends LTC Jones, USMA
Agreed to two-part test and use of Pierce’s Integral Tables Scoring would be that used in cross-country meets

13 Completing the Committee
President of the MAA – the body which stands for collegiate mathematics in this country Professor Arnold Dresden seemed almost ‘ordained’ for the job and accepted the invitation

14 Scope of the Examination (1 of 2)
Plane Analytic Geometry Distance from a point to a line Conics – Derivation of equations in rectangular and polar coordinates General equation of the second degree; simplification by translations and rotation of coordinate axes Locus problems involving applications of the above Solid Analytic Geometry Equations of straight lines and planes Distance from point to a plane or line Equations of spheres, cylinders, cones, surfaces of revolution Elementary properties of quadric surfaces

15 Scope of the Examination (2 of 2)
Calculus Curve tracing Velocity, acceleration, rates Radius and center of curvature Evolutes Taylor’s Theorem, functions of one variable Series – tests for convergence, expansion of functions, integration Applications to mechanics, center of gravity, moment of inertia, radius of gyration, attraction, fluid pressure, work Elementary differential equations, first order, linear equations with constant coefficients, orthogonal trajectories, simple equations of higher order

16 Preparations for Battle – West Point
West Point Team Statement “We are really series about this contest. We really mean it. We’re just dyne to meet those dumb Harvard guys, and we’re determinant to win. We all hope to make our integral signs.”

17 Preparations for Battle – West Point
From March 15 – May 20 Excused from parade 3 days a week Excused from intramural athletics Drilled in extra mathematics two afternoons a week

18 Preparations for Battle - Harvard
Confident of Victory Took a lighter approach Met with coach about four times Assumed Harvard intellects would easily carry the day

19 “The Coordinate Clash, or Block that Abscissa”
Pre-game Publicity Sports section of New York Times “Sports of the Times” column by John Kieran on May 18, 1933 “The Coordinate Clash, or Block that Abscissa”


21 Other Headlines “Army meets Harvard in Mathematical ‘Go’”
“Squads at West Point Begin Contest in Calculus and Analytic Geometry” “Harvard and West Point Line up on the Geometry Field”

22 The Test Part I – Friday, May 19: 3 hours
11 problems: 6 analytic geometry, 2 differential calculus, 3 integral calculus Part II – Saturday, May 20: 3 hours 11 problems: 1 logarithms, 3 analytic geometry, 6 differential calculus, 1 integral calculus Not as difficult, nor as challenging, as the first National Putnam Examination given on April 16, 1938

23 And the Winner is… “Crimson Bow to West Point Mathematicians”
“Harvard Mathematics Team Outfigured by West Pointers”

24 The After Math All members of the Army team finished in the top 20 of their graduating class; seven of the ten spent over 20 years in the Army; most later became professors and obtained their Ph.D. None were mathematicians; all were engineers

25 Putnam’s Legacy Harvard-USMA competition was not repeated
Putnam’s sons, George and August, consulted with George Birkhoff of Harvard to keep the dream alive Birkhoff and colleagues from the department wrote the first national examination in 1938 Set up continuing principles for the competition Teams consist of three people Tests are administered by the MAA Prizes are distributed to several top teams and individuals

26 Conclusion “Through the efforts of Birkhoff and many others, and the experience garnered from the Harvard-USMA Competition of 1933, the annual William Lowell Putnam Mathematics Competition came into existence in 1938 and has prospered in the 50 years since.” -David C. Arney and George Rosenstein “USMA-Harvard Math Competition”, 2000

27 References: Arney, David C. and George Rosenstein. “USMA-Harvard Math Competition.” Available from Arney, David C. “Army Beats Harvard.” Math Horizons. Sept. 1994: 14 – 17. Kieran, John. “The Coordinate Clash, or Block That Abscissa!” New York Times 18 Mar. 1933: 17. “Army ‘Mathletes’ Defeat Harvard, ; Cadet Smith is First in Calculus Affray.” New York Times 5 June 1933: 4. Copy of Briefing Available from:

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